With a season hanging in the balance, two seniors for the Hope College softball team delivered game-sealing performances in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Pitcher Sydney Jones and second baseman Sierra Mutschler both added to record-setting totals at critical times to propel the 17th-ranked Flying Dutch to a 6-1 victory against Franklin (Indiana) College in an elimination game Saturday at Wolters Stadium.
Hope (31-10 overall) advanced to Monday's noon championship game in the Holland, Michigan Regional. The Flying Dutch will host Calvin College, needing to win twice to reach next week's super regional.
Jones, pictured at left, earned a single-season Hope record 18th win of the season in relief. The senior from South Lyon, Michigan (East HS) 3 ⅔ innings of scoreless relief to surpass her old mark of 17 wins from last season.
Jones entered in the bottom of the fourth with one and runners at second and third. Hope's single-season and career strikeout leader fanned two of the three she faced to keep the score tied at 1-1.
Hope then came up in the fifth and erupted for five runs. The Flying Dutch sent eight batters to the plate beginning with a leadoff single from centerfielder Noelle Jackson of Grand Blanc, Michigan (Grand Blanc).
After a sacrifice bunt and a single from rightfielder Amanda Diaz of Mundelein, Michigan (Mundelein), Jackson scored the go-ahead run on a single by first baseman Shay Pinhey of Ann Arbor, Michigan (Pioneer).
Catcher Hayley Reitsma of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Grand Rapids Christian) followed two batters later with a two-out RBI singles.
Mutschler, of Wayland, Michigan (Wayland) then crushed the 28th home run of her career - a school record - over the fence.
Mutschler, pictured at right, finished with four RBIs. She singled home Reitsma in the first after Reitsma's two-out triple.
Jones finished the game by striking out nine of the 15 batters she faced. She now has 215 strikeouts this season — second all-time at Hope to her 229 as a junior — and a record 697 for her career.
The Flying Dutch have advanced to a regional final for the third time in four years.
Hope rebounded after losing to Calvin 5-2 in Saturday's first game. Franklin topped Greenville (Illinois) University 10-0 in five innings to face the Flying Dutch.