Only thing left to do: win the whole thing.
Maddie Bray allowed one run over seven innings, Jackie Castaneda and Emily Clements hit solo home runs and 10th-ranked Shorter punched its ticket to the national championship game with a 5-1 victory over 16th-ranked Brenau in the first of two national semifinals on Tuesday in Gulf Shores, Ala.
The Lady Hawks (52-11), who also set a school record for victories with the win over the Golden Tigers, advance to the national championship game for the first time in school history and will take on the winner of Brenau's matchup with Oklahoma City set for 6:30 pm ET tonight. The winner of that game would have to defeat the Lady Hawks twice tomorrow in order to claim the national title.
Shorter finds itself in the driver's seat after another big win over the Golden Tigers (44-15) in postseason play. Shorter is 5-0 against Brenau in conference and national tournament games since the 2010 season - the Lady Hawks eliminated Brenau from this year's SSAC Tournament by a 1-0 count in April.
In that game, it was Amanda Dailey's solo homer that doomed the Golden Tigers. This time, it was Castaneda's solo shot in the first and Clements' solo blast as part of a two-run fourth for Shorter that set the tone for the Lady Hawks. Bray added a sacrifice fly in the fourth to put Shorter up 3-0 and the Lady Hawks went up 5-0 after Dailey's two-out, two-run single to right in the fifth.
As has been the case all tournament for Shorter, a freshman arm spearheaded another defensive gem.
Bray (18-5), the SSAC's Co-Freshman of the Year who beat the Golden Tigers for the third time this season, allowed nine hits, but worked out of jams with two base runners in the second, third, fourth and sixth innings to keep Brenau off the board. The Golden Tigers strung together three hits in a row to score their first run of the game with one out in the seventh on a Jenny Shepard RBI single, but Bray buckled down, getting Ellen Black to ground out to Castaneda behind the plate and forcing Sally Duggan into a game-ending ground out to Clements at short.
Bray struck out seven and walked none in a 94-pitch effort. She won her fourth game of this national tournament.
Shorter, one of six teams out of the Southern States Athletic Conference to make this year's national tournament field, has finally broken through in its sixth straight and final trip to the NAIA Softball National Championship.
The Lady Hawks, who posted fifth and seventh place finishes in 2010 and 2011, respectively, locked up a top three finish with upsets of second-ranked Cal State San Marcos (4-3) and third-ranked Oklahoma City (3-1) in Monday's bracket play. Then came Brenau - perhaps the only team as hot as the Lady Hawks at this point in the season - which defeated fourth-ranked Central Baptist (Ark.), 8-4, for the right to square off with the Lady Hawks for a berth in the title game.
Unfortunately for the Golden Tigers, there were no surprises from Shorter in the sixth meeting of the season between the two fierce rivals.
Shorter, the SSAC's leading home run hitting team, saw Castaneda go deep for the second straight game with her team-high 13th homer of the season as Shorter's second batter in the first inning. Clements made it 2-0 with a rope over the wall in left to lead off the Shorter fourth, her ninth round-tripper of the 2012 campaign.
The Lady Hawks, who have lived off of two-out hits during the national tournament, got much needed insurance off of Brenau reliever and ace Anna Maness in the fifth when Dailey went the other way to drive home Castaneda, who started the rally with a two-out walk, and Clements, who followed Castaneda with a single, for a 5-0 lead.
Brenau outhit Shorter 9-6, but stranded 10 runners. Clements finished 2-for-3 for Shorter to pace the Lady Hawks offensively.
Tomorrow's national championship game is set for 1:30 pm ET. The "if necessary" Game 2 would take place 30 minutes following Game 1 should Shorter fall in the opener.