COLLEGE SOFTBALL: 4 takeaways from RSU's regional win over SNU

May 10—In any postseason setting in sports, the first game is arguably the toughest of all.

The reasons can vary among the competition, but it is mainly because teams don't know what to expect or know how to play through challenges.

Rogers State softball, however, showed little signs of jitters in the first round of the NCAA Division II Central Regional.

The second-seeded Hillcats collected 12 hits — including a pair of home runs — while pitcher Sara Llamas-Howell tossed a complete-game shutout in a 7-0 victory over 7-seed Southern Nazarene on Thursday afternoon at the Diamond Sports Complex.

With the win, they advanced to play third-seeded Central Oklahoma at 11 a.m. Friday.

"Well, I feel a lot better," RSU coach Andrea Vaughan said. "I told them sometimes that first game, it's just the nerves, the pressure. They didn't seem like they were nervous at all, and that's where you want your team. You want them relaxed. You want them confident. You want them handling pressure well late in the postseason. I just couldn't be more proud of how they can just handle the pressure. They're very good under pressure. I've told them that for a while now, and we're really starting to see it."

Here are four takeaways from RSU's opening-round victory over the Crimson Storm.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Abbey Rogers. In the third inning with the score tied at zero, the junior stepped up to the plate and unleashed a powerful swing, sending the ball sailing over the left-field wall for a three-run home run.

This display of power broke the deadlock and provided the Hillcats with the offensive spark they needed.

She didn't stop there, though.

The Carl Albert alum continued her offensive onslaught in the fifth inning, delivering an RBI single to center field to further extend RSU's lead to 4-0. Rogers finished 2-for-4 at the plate with a game-high four RBIs, while the home run marked her eighth of the season and the 29th of her career.

"I feel like hitting is contagious, and I'm always happy to start it off," Rogers said. "But I'm just so proud of my teammates for coming through after, then just keep pushing every run across the board."

KEY MOMENT: With the game locked in a tense, scoreless battle and RSU managing only one hit through nearly three innings, the team was in desperate need of a spark.

It was Rogers who rose to the occasion, providing exactly what the Hillcats needed.

Despite experiencing a fly out in her first at-bat, Rogers exuded confidence as she stepped up to the plate for her second opportunity before delivering a powerful swing, sending the ball soaring over the left-field wall for a monumental home run.

Rogers' clutch play opened the floodgates for RSU, for the team went on to smack another 10 hits throughout the remainder of the game. Callie Yellin added to the offensive assault with a three-run home run in the fifth inning, further solidifying the lead at 7-0.

Contributions from players like Paxton Donaldson, McKayla Carney and Chelsea Spain, who collected two hits apiece, further fueled the Hillcats' offensive outburst.

"It was just adjusting to what the pitcher was throwing," Rogers said. "It was up, and I got under it a little bit. I swung at some bad pitches the first at-bat, so I sat back in the box and waited for a little edge."

The impact of Rogers' home run extended beyond the team's offensive production, for it injected a newfound sense of energy and confidence into the defensive aspects of the game as well.

SETTLING DOWN: Despite experiencing a challenging start to the game, Llamas-Howell maintained her composure and delivered a standout performance in the circle.

The senior demonstrated her dominance with four of her five strikeouts coming in the first two innings, but she also faced adversity as SNU managed to put runners in scoring position.

However, Llamas-Howell remained composed under pressure, relying on her experience and skill to navigate through difficult situations. With the support of her defense, she limited the damage and prevented the Crimson Storm from capitalizing on their scoring opportunities.

The turning point came in the bottom of the third inning when Rogers blasted the home run, injecting a surge of energy and momentum into the game. From that moment on, Llamas-Howell was virtually untouchable, allowing only one hit over the final four innings of the game.

Despite SNU's attempts to rally in the seventh inning with a single to center field by Mikayla Oaks, Llamas-Howell and the RSU defense remained steadfast, preserving the shutout victory.

"I think what also helped was Abbey's home run," Llamas-Howell said. "I got that offensive support, and after that I was really able to settle in and just be way more relaxed out there."

UP NEXT: The upcoming game presents a formidable challenge for the Hillcats, for they face a UCO team that has proven to be a tough opponent in recent encounters.

The Bronchos swept RSU earlier this season, securing victories of 8-2 and 5-4 last month. Additionally, UCO has emerged victorious in the past five meetings of the series, highlighting their dominance over the Hillcats in recent matchups.

Despite these past struggles, Vaughan remains steadfast in her team's approach. The Hillcats are not backing down and are maintaining a resilient mindset as they prepare to take on their MIAA rival once again.

"We're not switching up our mindset," Vaughan said. "We're just going to be prepared. That's been our biggest thing going into this postseason. I commend them all the time (because) they do their homework. They take responsibility for their at-bats, and they take responsibility for the outcome that they want. And a lot of that is preparation — so much of being successful in the postseason is preparation."