There was really no need for Mark Cooke to say it.
So he said it anyway.
"It was scary up until the sixth inning," Cooke said. "I just went up to them and said, 'We need to get it done right now.'"
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Winthrop scored two runs in the sixth inning on Thursday to erase a 2-1 deficit and spurted to a 3-2 win over Birmingham-Southern in the first round of the Big South Conference tournament. Lethargic all day against a team they'd shut out by a combined 16-0 in a three-game series earlier this year, the Eagles (34-17) popped the clutch at just the right time and cruised into the winner's bracket.
Top seed Winthrop plays second-seeded Radford at 3 p.m. today. The winner advances to Saturday's championship.
"He didn't need to say it, because we knew," third baseman Pearl Coleshill said. "We all could feel it.
"Then Tessa (Thomas) got that hit and it was time to roll."
Down a run in the sixth after pitchers Megan Evans and Cari Wooldridge (15-9) struggled with command, Thomas turned on the first pitch and drove it to left-center for her second double of the game. Big South Player of the Year Lisa Kingsmore tried to sting a shot past a drawn-in infield but lined out to third base.
Stephanie Reid pushed a single to short that was caught, but not in time for a throw-out. Slugger Mallory Hogan stepped in and eased Cooke's tension.
Hogan's single to left tied the game and Jo-Lynn Smith followed with another RBI single, plating Reid for the winning run. Wooldridge mowed down the Panthers' last three batters and Winthrop advanced.
"I was just trying to get it down and get it through," Smith said. "I think we just didn't come out playing up to our potential. I knew I had to get it done."
Kingsmore had the other RBI on a first-inning single, after Thomas led off the game with her first double. Coleshill helped squelch a Birmingham-Southern rally in the fifth, alertly checking runners back to the bag on groundouts that could have turned into runs.
"Just routine," she said. "I was just trying to concentrate on where the runners were and what I needed to do."
With the Panthers (32-27) out of the way, the Eagles waited on nemesis Radford (46-13) to advance, which happened one game later. The Highlanders, second by a game to Winthrop in the regular season, will play the Eagles again today with a leg up in the tournament on the line.
"We kind of thought we'd have to go through them," Coleshill said. "We're looking forward to it."
In other games:
• (5) BIRMINGHAM-SOUTHERN 2, (4) LIBERTY 1 -- Birmingham-Southern plated single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to once again send Liberty to the loser's bracket.
The Flames, who went two-and-out last year, scored their run in the first inning. BSC got two hits from Melissa Muehlenfeld and an RBI from DiAmond Jordan.
• (3) COASTAL CAROLINA 3, (6) CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 1 -- Verity Long-Droppert mashed a three-run homer in the first inning and Coastal Carolina held on for the duration, dropping Charleston Southern into the loser's bracket.
CSU out-hit Coastal 9-4 but couldn't scratch more than one first-inning run across the plate.
• (2) RADFORD 5, (3) COASTAL CAROLINA 3 -- Radford scored all the runs it needed in the first three innings and beat Coastal Carolina, advancing to the winner's bracket and a date with top seed Winthrop.
Big South Pitcher of the Year Ashley Taylor only allowed four hits but gave up three earned runs. She struck out five.