116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Payton Bruner has a long list of accomplishments in her five-year Mount Mercy softball career.
As she came to the plate Sunday with two runners on and the Mustangs trailing 4-1 in the bottom of sixth inning of the Heart of America Conference tournament title game against top-seed Grand View, Bruner admitted she thought about the fact it could end up being the final at-bat of her illustrious career.
The former Cedar Rapids Washington standout delivered a blow for the ages.
She connected for a line drive three-run homer over the left-field fence to tie the game. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, she was on first when freshman Samantha Lee delivered an RBI single to center, scoring former Linn-Mar prep Morgan Braughton with the winning run and giving Mount Mercy a thrilling, 5-4, win at Busse Field.
Mount Mercy (33-14), which lost a 6-0 decision to No. 22 Grand View (42-11) in the first game on Sunday, will be making its first NAIA tournament appearance since 2010, thanks in large part to Bruner's leadership on and off the field.
Bruner said she wasn't thinking long ball when she came up in the sixth.
"I just wanted to put the ball in play," she said after going 4-for-5 in the title game. "We had runners on first and second and I really wasn't looking for a home run. I just wanted to hit the ball hard and it ended up being a home run."
"It felt good off the bat. It was an inside change-up and it felt good when it left the bat."
Coach Larry Yoder said the Mustangs were down after the loss in the first game.
"We got behind in that game and I thought we kind of coasted through to the end," he said. "We talked about never quitting and it didn't look good when we were down 4-1 but we kept battling and made it happen.
“Payton is simply amazing."
The Mustangs got good pitching out of the bullpen from freshman Kalli Minger. She relieved Emily Oler in the top of the sixth after the Vikings took the 4-1 lead. She pitched out of jams in the seventh and eighth innings.
In the home eighth, Braughton drew a one-out walk and moved to second on a bloop single from Bruner, bringing Lee to the plate.
"I really wasn't thinking too much," Lee said. "I knew that one hit would do it and I was able to make good contact and drive it."
Braughton scored easily, setting off a wild celebration in the middle of the diamond.
"We never stop fighting," Lee said. "The first game didn't go the way we wanted it to and we had another chance and were able to take advantage of that."
The victory was still being celebrated, but Bruner was already looking ahead to the national tournament.
"This feels good and I'm ready to get on the field again for practice to get ready for next week," she said. "I'm enjoying every last moment of this."