No. 17 softball stays alive, earns Simmons' 600th win

Photo of head coach Dawn Simmons during a game

Virginia Beach, Va. -- Of course number 600 wouldn't come easy.

None of the milestone victories ever do.

But the University of Lynchburg softball team battled the stress of extra innings the day before, a hard-fought loss earlier Saturday and a two-hour rain delay to beat No. 13 Manhattanville, 4-1, in a loser-out NCAA tournament game, sealing the 600th-career victory for Hornets head coach Dawn Simmons.

For Simmons, who took over the softball program at her alma mater in 1999, the milestone was especially sweet because of the scenario: A win-or-go-home game in the national tournament.

She took time to reflect on the last 21 seasons as the Hornets soaked up their second victory of the Virginia Beach Regional.

"It's always been home to me," Simmons said of Lynchburg. "A lot of great players have come through the program, and I'm fortunate to have the players' and coaching staffs' help through the years."

Saturday, it was stellar pitching and defense from the Hornets that earned the win.

Sophomore right-hander Kayley Cox (Yorktown, Va.), battling a painful rib injury, went the distance, scattering four Valiants hits in the 78-pitch effort. Her lone strikeout ended the ballgame.

"Once I got out there, my adrenaline was going, and I was thinking about the game," Cox said of pitching through the painful rib injury.

Lynchburg got Cox a comfortable lead in the second inning. Sophomore center fielder Haylee Wood (Goode, Va.) started the rally with a one-out walk and stole second.

With the bases loaded, junior left fielder Carol Oberhelman (Washington Township, N.J.) slugged a ball into the left-center field gap, scoring Wood for the game's first run. Manhattanville cut down a baserunner at the plate to limit the damage, but two batters later, senior third baseman Taylor Mabry (Bassett, Va.) ripped a two-run single up the middle to make it 3-0 in Lynchburg's favor.

Senior catcher Brittany Coffey (Manassas, Va.) brought in the Hornets' fourth run when she was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

"Especially with the weather coming in, it was a big deal for us to get on top, because you didn't know what was going to happen," Oberhelman said.

Meanwhile in the circle, Cox rolled. She set down MC in order the first time through the order, but a leadoff single in the fourth broke up the perfect-game bid. She rebounded to retire the next six hitters before lightning forced the game into a delay.

When the skies cleared two hours later, Simmons stuck with the sophomore in the circle.

"I had a feeling that no matter what, she was going to be ready to go," the coach said.

Cox said the injury bothered her more after the delay.

"It made me get really tight, and it started to hurt pretty bad," she admitted, "but I was able to work through it."

She worked a perfect sixth, but the Valiants rallied in the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back singles.

After a sparkling running catch in foul ground by Oberhelman in left and a fielder's choice that brought Manhattanville to its final out, left fielder Jordyn Boyd hit an RBI single to left-center to cut the score to 4-1.

Cox locked back in to strike Sophia Chapelone out looking to end the ballgame and keep Lynchburg's season alive.

The 17th-ranked Hornets improved to 34-13 with the victory, but their road to the super-regional round remains difficult. Lynchburg will need to beat top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Virginia Wesleyan twice Sunday to advance.

Fresh off the milestone win, Simmons believes her team is up to the task.

"We're not ready to be done," she said.

First pitch Sunday at Virginia Wesleyan's Broyles Field is scheduled for 11 a.m.

Please continue to check LynchburgSports.com or email and text updates for potential scheduling changes as weather looks to be a factor through the weekend.

--LYN--

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