Montclair, NJ (5/10/09) – From 59 teams down to eight. Following four days of upsets, dominant performances and fantastic finishes, the field is now set for the 28th NCAA Division III Softball Championship at the Montclair State University Softball Stadium. Eight teams which have combined for 318 victories this season will head East to New Jersey for a chance at the national championship. While Cortland and Salisbury have been somewhat fixtures in the tournament the past several years, three will be making their first appearance (Texas-Tyler, Gustavus Adolphus and Ohio Northern). For two schools (Messiah and Tufts) it has been a near decade since their last berth and the last squad is back for just its second trip.
The final day of first-round action had a little of everything.
The most dramatic game of the day came in the Marshall, Texas bracket as Texas-Tyler, which seemed to have a knack for that throughout its tournament, slipped past 2007 champion Linfield 5-4 in eight innings. The Patriots’ won all four games in their tournament by a run, three of those victories coming in extra innings. Sophomore Whitney Wyly snapped an 0-for-13 slump with a three-run homer in the top of the eighth to make the score 5-2, but Linfield got a home run of its own cutting the lead to a run. Kelsey Ainsworth would come on and end the threat as the Patriots celebrated their first trip to the NCAA finals.
While UT-Tyler was winning in dramatic style, Messiah and Tufts kept rolling along as they won the Mahwah, New Jersey and Beverly, Massachusetts brackets, respectively.
Messiah stretched its winning streak to 19 as the Falcons defeated second-seeded William Paterson 6-1 to earn its first trip to the finals since 1999 and the third overall. The Falcons, who tied the school record with their 39th victory of the year, got a three-hitter from Jessica Rhodes and two RBI from Ashley Lehman. Meanwhile Tufts is now 42-1 as the Jumbos cranked out 15 hits and scored five runs in the top of the seventh in a 10-1 victory over Coast Guard.
Top seeds Cortland and Ohio Northern were a perfect 3-0 heading into the final however each found that last victory difficult to get as they were pushed to deciding contests.
Cortland, the lone holdover from the 2008 field, was having a near case of déjà vu as for the second straight weekend the Red Dragons were forced into a winner-take-all contest with fellow SUNYAC member Buffalo State. The Bengals downed Cortland 6-2 in the first game at the Ithaca, New York bracket. But the Red Dragons put the ball in the hands of Katie Finch in the title game and the junior delivered with a two-hit shutout, fanning 11 as Cortland is headed to the finals for the sixth time overall and second consecutive campaign.
Ohio Northern was in the same predicament after dropping a 4-0 decision to DePauw in the Greencastle, Indiana bracket. But for the second time in two days, an Ohio Northern grand slam decided the final outcome between the Polar Bears and DePauw and this time it was Jackie Mangola who provided the blast that gave Ohio Northern a 4-1 win, sending ONU to its first national finals berth.
Fourth-seeded Coe College pulled off perhaps the day’s biggest surprise as the Kohawks knocked off second-seeded and host Illinois Wesleyan twice on its own turf to earn its second trip to the national finals. Coe, which last advanced in 2006, scored three in the seventh to come from behind and earn a 4-3 win to force a deciding game. In that contest, freshman Ashlee Simon improved to 23-4 in the circle as she limited the Titans to three hits and struck out 14.
Gustavus Adolphus is the lowest seed to advance as the Gusties captured the Indianola bracket at Simpson College. Gustavus, the No. 7 seed, got a home run and two RBI from Lisa Klass as they pounded eighth-seeded Webster 11-1 to earn its trip to Montclair State. The Gusties went 4-0 in the bracket and scored 41 runs in those games. Klass drove in seven during the tournament.
In the Salisbury, Maryland bracket, host Salisbury used the home field to its advantage as the Sea Gulls pulled off a pair of wins to reach the NCAA Division III Softball Championship for the fifth time in the last eight years. Salisbury Catcher Lauren Brenneman blasted a home run and drove in four as the Sea Gulls blanked Emory, 8-0 to move into the championship game. Kelly Waskewicz singled home two runs in the top of the second and pitcher Kelsey Mills made that hold up with a four-hitter as Salisbury won five straight following an opening-round loss to punch its ticket to Montclair State.