COLUMBIA — Columbia College senior Marli Hayes jolted eardrums with an abrupt ping of her bat. It was the first inning of Game 1 in a doubleheader between the Cougars and Park University, and Hayes foreshadowed the remainder of Tuesday afternoon at Antimi Fields.
"There it is," said a man in the stands who stood in response to Hayes' hit. "Over!"
Hayes’ two-run home run cleared the center field fence and gave the Cougars a two-run lead. The tone was set with one swift swing.
"We really wanted to beat this team kind of from last year, because they knocked us out of the tournament and beat us in the regular season," Hayes said. "So we were really gunning for this game."
Columbia swept Park University in the doubleheader. The Cougars won 4-3 in Game 1 and 10-2 in Game 2. Columbia improved to 15-10 overall and 7-1 in American Midwest Conference play. The losses were Park's first in AMC play, and the Pirates are now 24-6 overall, 10-2 in the AMC.
“It's a really great momentum builder," Columbia catcher Taylor Atwood said of the sweep. "We're gonna use this because this put us in a really good position for the rest of the week, but we have to make sure we go into the next few teams the same way we went into this team.”
Game 1 got interesting after Columbia added a run in the third inning for a 3-0 lead. Park came back with one run in the fourth inning, and then nearly tied the game when freshman Shae Boyd came within inches of a two-run home run in the fifth inning. The glove of Cougars freshman outfielder Carly Spalding robbed Boyd by catching the near home run as Spalding slammed into the fence.
In the sixth inning, Park did tie the game by scoring two runs on consecutive wild pitches. Columbia won in the bottom of the seventh inning thanks to a bobbled ground ball by Park's third baseman, allowing Spalding to score the winning run.
Minutes after crossing home plate, Spalding went to the concession stand with her mother to get Skittles, passing the time between doubleheaders. A half-hour after that, she was crossing home plate again as Hayes hit another two-run home run in the first inning of Game 2.
Columbia junior Brittiany Tjarks and senior Kristin Eiken followed suit, each having a two-run home run of her own in the second game. The game ended prematurely after five innings because the Cougars led by eight runs due to NAIA rules.
Hayes finished the day 3-for-4 with two home runs, five RBIs, five runs and two walks.
"She's a captain," Columbia coach Wendy Spratt said of Hayes. "She's a leader. I think she's done a great job this year of knowing what to say and when to say it. She pumped everybody up and got everybody to say, 'This is our game, and we're gonna go get it.'
"She wanted it, and they followed."
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.