(DAHLONEGA)– The No. 8 University of North Georgia softball team had its season ended Wednesday afternoon in the Southeast Super Regionals as No. 22 Lenoir-Rhyne won a pair of games while facing elimination to clinch the program’s first ever Southeast Regional championship.

LR used a three-run sixth inning in game one to pull away from UNG 6-4 and force a decisive third game. In that third game, the Bears exploded for eight runs in the fourth inning, emerging victorious over the Nighthawks 9-1 in five innings.

The Bears have advanced to the 2024 NCAA Division II Softball Championships in Orlando, Fla. LR is one of two fourth-seeded regional teams to make it to the championships and the first ever representative out of the Southeast Region from the South Atlantic Conference.

No team has defended its national championship crown with a second consecutive title in 26 years. It was a feat that UNG had in its sights, but was unable to accomplish after a roller coaster season. Crazy comebacks, stellar individual performances, key injuries, an 18-game winning streak, a 10th consecutive Peach Belt Conference regular season title; all that and more was packed into the 2024 campaign for head coach Mike Davenport and his team.

Now, as the program says goodbye to 10 amazing seniors, one chapter ends and another begins as all eyes are on the 2025 season.

Game #1: Bears def. Nighthawks, 6-4
Wednesday’s first game started in a very similar fashion to the 11-3 win UNG had in the first game of the series on Tuesday.

Both teams scored three runs in the first three innings to spark a close contest that appeared to be full of offense.

With four walks and two runs allowed in the first two innings, senior pitcher Tybee Denton was pulled from the game. Fellow senior Kristen Davis entered in an attempt to slow down the Bears and she did just that.

While LR added its third run on a sacrifice fly against Davis, she then only allowed three base runners between the third and fifth innings.

After scoring a pair of runs in the third inning themselves, the Nighthawks had a similar fate as freshman two-way player and starting pitcher Madison Wilson got into a groove.

Wilson allowed a base hit to UNG sophomore first baseman Marycille Brumby in the second inning. It would be the last hit she allowed in the game until the bottom of the seventh inning.

While both teams struggled to find offense in the middle innings, designated player Lauren Rakes woke up the bats in the top of the sixth. The two-way player roped a home run to center field, untying the game in favor of LR 4-3.

Then a walk and a single preceded an error in the field, which allowed another run to score. In the next at bat, shortstop Katelyn Rackard attempted to steal second base. Senior catcher Georgia Blair went to throw down to the bag but nobody was covering, so she adjusted at the last minute and still tried to at least throw the ball to sophomore second baseman Katie Ward. The throw sailed into right field and another run scored, making it 6-3.

Suddenly, the Nighthawks needed three runs in the top of the seventh to book a trip to Orlando. They got a run when Ward doubled to left field with one out to bring home senior left fielder Mariah Wicker.

However, a costly base running mistake from Ward on the same play resulted in the second out being recorded. Blair grounded out to end the game as the Bears had evened the series at 1-1.

Game #2: Bears def. Nighthawks, 9-1 (5 Inn.)
LR didn’t necessarily ride the momentum from their game two win into the start of game three. In fact, Davis started in the circle again for UNG and didn’t allow a run until the third inning.

The Nighthawks had scored their lone run on an RBI double from Blair in the first inning. The Bears tied things in the third after three straight singles brought home Wilson who reached on a lead off walk.

Davis worked out of the third, but disaster struck in the fourth.

Rakes led off the inning and connected on her second home run of the day and first of game two. She once again broke the tie on what was her 17th homer of the season.

Rakes’ blast opened the floodgates to an eight-run inning. Following the homer, LR’s at bats went: single, single, single, walk, single, hit batter, sacrifice fly. Eventually Rakes came up to the plate again as the 10th hitter in the frame. By now, senior pitcher Delaney Heaberlin had taken over for Davis in the circle.

With two outs, Rakes came up with a pair of runners on. She launched the Bears into run rule territory with her third home run of the day and second of the inning.

UNG went quietly in order in the top of the fifth, bringing the season to a screeching halt.

The season ends as the ninth 50-plus win season in UNG softball history. The Nighthawks won their 10th consecutive PBC regular season title and advanced to the Super Regionals for the fourth straight season. Since qualifying for postseason play as an NCAA Division II member back in 2008, UNG has never missed an NCAA Tournament.