No. 17 softball walks off in NCAA opener

MACKENZIE CHITWOOD'S HOME RUN FLIES OVER THE FENCE IN AN NCAA SOFTBALL GAME

Virginia Beach, Va. -- What other way to break a record?

On the first pitch of the bottom of the 12th inning, University of Lynchburg first baseman Mackenzie Chitwood (Ferrum, Va.) popped a home run over the left field fence, leading the Hornets to a 6-5, extra-inning victory over No. 13-ranked Manhattanville in the opening game of the NCAA Division III tournament's Virginia Beach Regional at Virginia Wesleyan University.

The big fly was Chitwood's 18th of the season, putting the senior in sole possession of Lynchburg's and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference's single-season home runs record.

It also broke an eight-inning scoreless drought for the Hornets, who had just three hits after rallying for three runs in the third inning.

Chitwood went 2-for-3 with two RBI and three walks on the day, and sophomore right fielder Kortney Leazer (Remington, Va.) had two hits, including a two-run single in the third.

Lynchburg's two relief pitchers were stellar as well. Senior right-hander Taylor Belknap (Arden, N.C.) wriggled out of several jams after entering in the fourth. The Valiants (40-3) managed five hits and five walks against Belknap in 5 ⅓ innings, but she held the MAC Freedom champions to a single run.

Sophomore right-hander Kayley Cox (Yorktown, Va.) relieved Belknap with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, escaped the inning and tossed four more scoreless frames with just three Manhattanville baserunners.

The Valiants got on the board in the top of the first. After two quick outs, MC No. 3 hitter Desiree Buboi singled, and cleanup hitter Evonne Torres clubbed an RBI double for a quick 1-0 lead.

Lynchburg responded with a pair of runs in the bottom half. Chitwood drove in junior shortstop Kayla Hugate (Chesterfield, Va.) with an RBI single, and junior second baseman Sarah Commons (Glen Allen, Va.) brought Chitwood in with an opposite-field double.

Manhattanville rallied in the third to take a 4-2 lead, but Lynchburg bounced right back in the bottom half of the inning. Freshman designated player Haley Drew (Appomattox, Va.) drew a bases-loaded walk to bring the deficit to one, and Leazer followed with a two-run single to right to put the Hornets on top.

The Valiants evened the tally in the fourth, and the game remained scoreless until Chitwood's homer ended it eight innings later.

Her record broke the single-season home run mark of 17 by Lynchburg hall-of-famer Caroline Cubbage, set by the three-time All-American in 2006. Chitwood has already broken Cubbage's career home runs and single-season RBI records this season. The current Hornet star has 41 career homers and 64 RBI in 2019.

The win is Lynchburg's first in the NCAA tournament since May 10, 2014, when the Hornets topped Agnes Scott, 6-2.

Lynchburg will move into the early game Saturday, against No. 1 Virginia Wesleyan. With the threat of bad weather in the Tidewater area for Saturday afternoon, the game has been moved to 10 a.m.

--LYN--

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