CHICAGO – Behind a huge day at the plate by junior left fielder Katie Sears (Chicago, Ill./Evansville/Mother McAuley), the No. 8 ranked and No. 2 seeded Saint Xavier University softball team forced a second championship game with No. 4 ranked and No. 1 seeded Olivet Nazarene University Sunday after a 5-2 victory in the 2 p.m. game of the 2014 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) Softball Tournament Sunday afternoon at SXU Softball Field in Chicago. Unfortunately for the Cougars (45-7-1 overall), the top-seeded Tigers ultimately claimed the tournament crown with a 7-4 win in the day's second game behind a pair of home runs by ONU senior second baseman Hannah Gardner, the 2014 CCAC Player of the Year. Sears combined to go 4-for-8 on the day with three runs scored and four RBI.
Saint Xavier sophomore Nicole Nonnemacher (Bloomington, Ill./Normal Community) and Olivet Nazarene senior Virginia McAndrews had a great pitching duel going through the first four innings of Sunday's opener. Sears came up with a clutch hit in the top of the fifth to break up the scoreless affair with a two-run double to the gap in left centerfield. The Tigers tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning behind solo homers by junior centerfielder Jordyn Truelock and senior third baseman Cheryl Sendzik. Sears came up huge again in the top of the seventh with a two-out, two-run double down the left field line and then Nicole Nonnemacher provided an RBI single later in the frame to give the Cougars a 5-2 lead for good. On the mound, Nicole Nonnemacher went all seven innings and moved her win-loss record to 20-4 allowing just four hits, two runs (both earned) and a walk with seven strikeouts. The victory also ended a 45-game unbeaten streak for Olivet Nazarene.
Things looked promising for Saint Xavier in the early portion of Sunday's second championship game as the host Cougars built a 4-1 advantage heading into the bottom of the fifth inning. However, the Tigers got hot offensively in the fifth belting out five hits, all with two outs, en route to a five-run frame to take a 6-4 lead. Gardner had a two-run homer in the fifth, while 2014 CCAC Tournament MVP Justine Phillips, a senior shortstop, had a two-run double. Phillips added an RBI on a sacrifice bunt in the sixth to compete the ONU scoring. Senior pitcher Megan Nonnemacher (Bloomington, Ill./Normal Community) took the loss (22-3) on the mound for the Cougars going all six innings and giving up eight hits, seven runs (six earned) and a walk with seven strikeouts. Sears and junior catcher Megan James (Oak Forest, Ill./Marist) each finished the second game with two hits. After the tourney, Sears, Nicole Nonnemacher, James, senior outfielder Katie Houlihan (Tinley Park, Ill./Lincoln-Way North) and sophomore second baseman Kasey Kanaga (Metamora, Ill./Metamora) were all named to the all-tournament team.
Saint Xavier (45-7-1 overall/17-2-1 CCAC) now awaits its seeding and site location for the 2014 NAIA Softball Opening Round tournament, which begins play on Monday, May 12. The NAIA Opening Round seeds are scheduled to be released by the NAIA national office on Tuesday, May 6, at 7 p.m.