Lady Rams rally to claim CIAA softball title

The speed of Idaysha Quinones on the base paths and in the outfield was a key factor in WSSU's successful run at the tournament championship.

Lady Rams rally to claim CIAA softball title
May 05
04:50 2016

Photo by Craig T. Greenlee



It’s been an on-going process for Winston-Salem State’s softball team to fully accept the notion that it can be one of the best in school in history. Coach LaTaya Hilliard-Gray has taken special care to constantly drill that message home to her troops this season.

Not only did the Lady Rams listen, but they responded in grand fashion by winning the CIAA championship last Saturday. Victory, though, did not come easy. It took a late-game rally for WSSU to pull off a 5-4 comeback win over Chowan in the tournament final. Rebecca Demko slapped a single to left field – her first hit of the day – to bring home Katherine Zimmer with the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

As league tournament champs, the Lady Rams earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Atlantic Regional which begins today (May 5).

Eighth-seeded WSSU will play West Virginia Wesleyan, the No. 1 seed, in an opening-round match-up in Buckhannon, W.Va. Game time is 2:30 p.m. Like the conference tournament, the NCAA regionals are double elimination.

“With all the struggles we had during the season, it all came together for us today,” said Hilliard-Gray.

“The players have finally embraced the idea that it takes a total team effort to win a championship. They realize that it takes contributions from everybody, not just a few individuals. Talent-wise, this is one of the best teams that I’ve had during my time here [13 seasons].

“Keep in mind that this is a young team with no seniors. Now that they have won key games in pressure situations, there’s no telling how much better they can be as they continue to grow and mature.”

In the CIAA final, Winston-Salem State (30-21) led 3-2 after six innings. But Chowan, the pre-season pick to win the conference, bounced back to go up 4-3 in their half of the seventh. The Lady Rams, who entered the title game undefeated, faced the possibility of having to play a second game in the double-elimination tournament if they should lose. WSSU had beaten Chowan 3-2 in the quarterfinals two days earlier.

The comeback started when Melissa Carillo reached base after being hit by a pitch. With one out, Zimmer singled and Mercedes Hargett tied the game with a RBI hit to score Carillo. Destiny Snipes, a CIAA All-Rookie pick, drew an intentional walk to load the bases, which set the stage for Demko’s game-changing heroics.

Hargett, the Lady Rams lead pitcher and best power hitter, was voted tournament MVP. The junior right-hander posted a 4-0 record with 26 strike-outs and eight walks. A day earlier in the semifinals, Hargett (20-10 pitching record) threw a no-hitter against Bowie State in an 11-0 win. In that five-inning game, she faced 16 batters and surrendered only one walk. At the plate, Hargett had a .545 tournament batting average with five RBIs and one home run.

“Mercedes had an exceptional all-around tournament,” said Hilliard-Gray. “As a pitcher, she got a lot of help defensively from Destiny Snipes and Idaysha Quinones in the outfield. They had her back. Chowan is a good-hitting team and they hit some solid shots. But Destiny and Idaysha have a lot of speed, so they were able to make catches on balls hit to the gaps, which prevented them from putting together scoring rallies.”

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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