Photo by Robert Smith

By Billy Watkins

Fifth-ranked Belhaven University begins its quest for a national softball championship Friday in one of 15 NCAA Division III regionals.

In a perfect world, the top-seeded Blazers would be playing on their home field. Instead, they have to travel to Marshall, Texas, home of East Texas Baptist, for the four-team double-elimination tournament.

What makes it even harder to swallow is that Belhaven, 38-6, defeated East Texas Baptist twice last weekend to win the American Southwest Conference tournament. 

“It’s unfortunate that our program is in the situation that we are in for the second straight year,” said Belhaven coach Kevin Griffin. “We don’t have lights at our field so we have not been able to host the conference tournament the past two years after winning the regular season title and are looked over for regionals because of the same issue. Our girls deserve to be able to play at home like other teams would get to do if they were in the same situation.”

The regional is loaded. It includes sixth-ranked Linfield (Oregon), eighth-ranked East Texas Baptist and Fontbonne University of St. Louis. The winner advances to a super regional next weekend.

Belhaven opens play Friday afternoon at 4:30 against Fontbonne.

The Blazers rebounded after a Game 2 loss in the conference tourney.

“I was proud of how we maintained our composure and competitive desire,” Griffin said. “To be able to come back Saturday and win two one-run games just shows the character of these players.

“Our freshman phenom, Ellie Jones, kept coming up big for us all weekend and it was so great to see May Hebert, who had very limited at-bats all year, come through with the game-winning hit in the championship game.

  “I was extremely happy for May. She’s one of the nicest young ladies anyone will ever meet and for her to come through in that big moment actually brought tears to my eyes because she deserved to experience that heroic result.”

Belhaven pitchers allowed only eight runs in five games. 

“I can’t say enough about Kennedy Carruth, Gracey Baucom, and Dallas Blaker,” Griffin said. “They all had great outings.”

Carruth, now 23-3, was the winning pitcher in the final two games against East Texas Baptist. In 14 innings, she allowed no runs and just six hits. She was named the tournament’s MVP.