DAHLONEGA - The opening game of the NCAA Southeast Super Regional lived up to all the hype on Friday evening, as seven home runs left the park, but second-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne had the last punch and came out on top with a 9-7 victory over top-seeded North Georgia at Haines & Carolyn Hill Stadium.
With their 10th straight win, the Bears (45-8) are just one win away from their first Division II World Series appearance, while North Georgia (50-10) says goodbye to their current 12-game winning streak.
The loss for the Saints is their first Super Regional defeat. The two teams play again at 2 p.m. today with a berth in the World Series on the line.
Callie Fernandez delivered a run-scoring double to the gap in right center to plate the first run of the game, and Ansley Williams came through with two outs and singled through the left side, sending Fernandez home to give the Saints a 2-0 lead.
North Georgia came right back and doubled the lead in the third inning, using a pair of solo home runs to jump out to a commanding 4-0 advantage. Sarah Johnson led off the frame and blasted a solo shot to right center, and Pilar Harden followed and connected with a solo shot of her own to give the Saints a four-run lead.
The Bears pulled to within a run on one swing of the bat in the fourth inning when Megan Laxton stepped the plate with a pair of runners aboard and drilled the sixth pitch of the at-bat off the foul pole down the left field line, cutting the North Georgia lead to 4-3.
Lenoir-Rhyne was at it again in the fifth inning, using a leadoff triple by Kat Rivers to spark a two-run inning to give the Bears their first lead of the day at 5-4.
With North Georgia facing their first deficit of the day in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Saints responded in style, using a leadoff walk by Sarah Johnson, and with two outs, Fernandez stayed red hot and belted a two-run homer over the fence in left center to put the Saints right back out in front at 6-5.
The battle of the best offenses in the southeast continued into the sixth inning when the Bears had a rally brewing and Jody Mizelle singled to left field to plate a run and knot the score at 6-6. Carlee Carpenter then stepped to the dish and blasted her fifth home run of the year down the left field line, a two run shot to give Lenoir-Rhyne the lead right back and make it 8-6.
Both teams added runs with solo shots in the seventh inning, as Sarah Adkins provided the blast for the Bears, while Fernandez continued her perfect day at the plate, smacking her second home run of the day, but it proved to be too little too late in a 9-7 defeat.
Fernandez had a career day at the plate, going 4-for-4 with a double, two home runs, four runs batted in, and three runs scored for the Saints, while Haily Jarman had the only multi-hit game for L-R, recording a pair of hits and scoring two runs.
Laxton (6-1) picked up the win for the Bears in relief, tossing five innings and giving up five hits and three runs, while Sarah Phillips (20-5) suffered the loss in relief as well, giving up four earned runs on three hits.