Taylor's game-winner lifts Scots to first-ever USA South Championship game, 2-1

Taylor's game-winner lifts Scots to first-ever USA South Championship game, 2-1

A storybook couldn't tell it any better.

MC's Rachel Taylor came into a struggling softball program four years ago, as the Scots went into her sophomore season with just 14 wins and a 12th out of 13 ranking in the USA South Preseason Poll.

On Saturday, however, Taylor made sure she had solidified her mark in MC Softball history and the turn-around of the program, as the only senior on the squad laced a two-RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning to earn the Scots' first-ever trip to the USA South Championship game.

"No one deserves this moment – not me, not this team – more than Rachel Taylor," Head Coach Leah Kelley said. "She has been there through Maryville College's worst of the worst, and now, the best of the best. That's something that you dream of – for her to be in that situation and to really save our season. To come in and get that opportunity to get that hit, and then to pull through for us, that just shows that she's been there since day one for this program. It's such a big moment for her to pull through like that."

Singles by Morgan Brewer and Essence Strambler put a pair of runners on, before Taylor would find the eventual game-winner. Taylor's two-out, two-RBI double to left-center scored both runners, as the Scots took the 2-1 win over Salem College in the Battle of the No. 1 seeds.

"Honestly, I don't even know [what happened]," Taylor said. "Going up to the plate, I told myself, 'You're 0-and-5.' We always joke about statistics a lot, and statistically speaking, I was supposed to get a hit. I was just trying to jump on a pitch that was low, because she got me to pop up twice on high pitches. In that moment, I was just like, 'Hit it where it's pitched.' I am grateful that Morgan Brewer and Mercedes were on base. It wouldn't have turned out that way if they hadn't done their job either."

The win gives Maryville College the chance to play for a USA South Athletic Conference Tournament Championship.

That game is slated for Sunday, April 15 at 2 p.m., as the opponent is yet to be determined. Impending weather may change the schedule, however, as heavy rains are set to move into LaGrange, Ga. later this afternoon.

Follow Maryville College Athletics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via @MCScots for schedule updates.

"What an awesome moment for Rachel to come in and give us that hit that we needed to go ahead," Kelley said. "It's so important that we had runners on in that moment to give her the chance to come up so clutch. That's the most clutch hit I've ever seen in my life. She really pulled through for us."

The Spirits struck first in the game, as Montana Lineberger drew a lead-off walk in the top of the fifth. Miranda Barker doubled to score Lineberger from first, as Salem put the Scots' backs against the wall.

Taylor's game-winner would come in the bottom of the sixth, before Christina White, Christen Torres and Brewer would combine to save the game defensively.

Lineberger doubled to right-center to lead-off the top of the seventh, as White came up throwing. Torres cut it off, tossing to Brewer to catch Lineberger attempting to stretch her hit to a triple. A pair of lineouts ended the contest in MC's favor.

"I'm sitting on cloud nine," Taylor said. "I give a lot of credit to Katlyn [Smith] on the mound, because she kept us in that game the whole time. Our defense was really strong, and we came up with big plays. We came up with that relay throw to third, and we practiced that just before we left. Just to see those executed, it is awesome. I give a lot to my team. It makes for a great senior year. It really does."

Maryville's Smith pitched another stellar performance. The reigning USA South Rookie Pitcher of the Year tallied her 14th win of the season to move to 14-1. She allowed just two hits with one earned run, as she struck out eight.

"She's just a freshman, and she comes up big," Kelley said. "She's going to have her shaky moments as a freshman. That's expected. She still comes in when we need her. She comes in clutch. That's good for her to be able to flip that switch as a freshman and turn it on when she needs to."

Her eight strikeouts on Saturday takes her USA South Tournament total to 32 through three games.

MC now sits tied with the school record for the most wins in a season.

Saturday's win marks the 28th of the season, as the Scots need only one win to break the 15-year record set in 2003.

"It's been honestly crazy," Taylor said. "If you had asked me freshman year that we would be here, I don't know if I could have said yes to that. It's just been such an emotional roller coaster. We've had potential the three other years, but it's just something about this year. It's clicking for all of us…it's so surreal for me. Freshman year, we didn't even win 15 games, and now that we're sitting one game away from the school record, that's pretty amazing."

Maryville (28-11) was led by Strambler's 2-for-3 effort, as she had a runs scored. Taylor was 1-for-3 with a pair of RBI, as Brewer went 1-for-3 with a run scored.

Salem College (24-16) saw Lineberger go 1-for-2 with a run, as Barker tallied a 1-for-4 mark with an RBI. The duo combined for the Spirits' two-hit attack.