The Hatters left Nashville Sunday knowing they will be making a return trip in two weeks.
The Stetson softball team (30-19, 13-12 A-Sun) split a doubleheader at Lipscomb Sunday afternoon, falling 7-3 in game one before winning 4-3 in game two, and clinched a berth in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship for the second year in a row.
"It was a big accomplishment for us," Stetson head coach Frank Griffin said. "We put ourselves behind the eight-ball early, we braved our way back, played hard every game, won most of them, and now we are in. To accomplish it with five freshmen and two sophomores starting says a lot about our future."
Meredith Owen (21-7) was dominant through the first six innings of game two, allowing just one hit, and retiring 11 in a row at one point. However, she had her streak of consecutive walkless innings end at 52 in the bottom of the seventh inning, and then Lipscomb hit back-to-back home runs to pull with a run.
"I was nervous because I could tell Lipscomb made some adjustments," Owen said. "Both of those girls who hit home runs hadn't been hitting that pitch all day. We are going to learn from that, too, and keep mixing it up."
Owen recorded the final two outs to preserve her 21st win of the year and the team's 30th victory of the season.
"I thought we beat a good team the second game, and they beat a good team the first game," Griffin said. "It's no wonder (the Lady Bisons) are near the top of the conference, they have a strong team and they have some power. Meredith shut them down for six and they did what they were supposed to do. They didn't give up and they swung the bats well."
Owen, Courtney Brandt, and Jordan Cleghorn each went deep for the Hatters, who set a new team single-season home run record. Owen tied the record with her 10th home run of the season in the top of the fourth inning in game one, and two batters later Brandt blasted a two-run shot to left for the Hatters' record 41st long ball of the season.
"It's a big accomplishment, especially since so many of the girls are new this year," Brandt said.
Cleghorn's solo home run late in game two hit the left field foul pole and turned out to be difference in the game.
After starting the conference season 3-9, the Hatters went 10-3 over the last 13 games to secure the sixth seed for the conference tournament, May 8-11 at Lipscomb.
"It's great to finally clinch a berth in the tournament," Brandt said. "I'm so happy."
"It feels awesome, I know that we can do big things here," Owen added.
Stetson will wrap up the regular season at 5 p.m. Wednesday at home against North Florida.
Notes: Stetson reached the 30-win mark for the first time since 2010 ... Owen is just the second player in school history to win 20+ games and hit 10+ home runs in the same season (Blake Hoorelbeke, 2004, 23/15). Her 17 career home runs ranks fifth all-time in school history ... Owen's walkless streak extended through 198 batters ... The Hatters are 3-1 at Draper Diamond (Lipscomb) over the past two seasons.