May 22, 2010

Courtesy of Linfield

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. - Claire Velaski (Jr., Portland, Ore.) shrugged off the effects of an illness to pitch a complete-game five-hitter and help the Linfield Wildcats scratch out a 2-1 victory over DePauw of Indiana Saturday in the winners bracket of the NCAA Division III Finals at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Gelein Field.

Linfield pushed its season record to 41-5 and advanced to the championship semifinals against either East Texas Baptist or Christopher Newport Sunday at 3 p.m. Pacific time. DePauw (40-8) drops into a losers bracket game against Eastern Connecticut on Sunday.

Looking run down and pale prior to the game, Velaski (19-2) showed no signs of wear against the bunt-driven offense of the Tigers.

Kayla Hubrich (Jr., Hillsboro, Ore.) went 3-for-3 and scored a run, Staci Doucette (Soph., Vancouver, Wash.) was 2-for 4 and drove in a run as the Wildcats got just enough runs to win the pitchers' duel that pitted Velaski against DePauw All-America ace Megan Soultz.

Velaski struck out just two Tigers but kept DePauw at bay. In the second inning, DePauw put runners at second and third base but Cimone Allen popped out to Emily Keagbine (Jr., Portland, Ore.) to end the inning.

"Velaski did an outstanding job of controlling the ball and working with her defense," said Tigers coach Bonnie Skrenta. "She controlled her batters nicely."

The Wildcats stranded eight runners of their own. Linfield loaded the bases on Soultz in the fourth with one out, but pinch runner Jordan Mixsell (Soph., Sammamish, Wash.) was tagged out at home and Jaydee Baxter (Soph., Damascus, Ore.) hit a foul ball that sailed into the glove of Jen Kosinski for the third out.

Linfield scored both its runs in the fifth inning. Soultz pegged Candice Fujino (Sr., Kealakekua, Hawaii) with a pitch before Hubrich singled down the third-base line. With runners at second and third, Emilee Lepp (Soph., Colville, Wash.) singled to center field to score Fujino and Doucette followed with a RBI single of her own that scored Hubrich, putting the Wildcats up 2-0.

DePauw made Linfield sweat during the final two innings. Kosinski doubled deep to the center-field wall before Emma Minx drilled a RBI double to cut the margin to 2-1. The Tigers put the winning run at the plate in the seventh, but Allen lined out to Rochelle Friend (Sr., Hood River, Ore.) for the final out.

"It was a hard fought win," said Wildcats coach Jackson Vaughan. "Give Megan Soultz credit, she did a great job. It was a defensive pitching battle."

For her part, Velaski refused to let her illness be an excuse.

"I feel worse in the morning and at night, so it was a great time of day to play," said the lanky lefthander. "I didn't think about it during the game. I just go out there and pluck it out."

Hubrich, a slap hitter, had Soultz' number, logging three of the Wildcats' six hits.

"I read the defense and put the ball where they are not," said Hubrich. "It's great when I get on base so I can get us to the top of the order."

`CAT SCRATCH: The Wildcats are competing in the NCAA Finals for the third time in five seasons. . . Velaski improved her career pitching record to 26-3. . . the weather was noticeably warmer Saturday than Friday, climbing into the upper 70s. . . there was a 30-minute delay for lightning in an earlier game that caused the Wildcats' game to start later than the 1:30 p.m. Pacific scheduled time.

IN OTHER CONTESTS: Luther rebounded from its first-round loss to Linfield by ending Ithaca's season with a 4-0 shutout of the Bombers. . . Eastern Connecticut eliminated Moravian, beating the Greyhounds 3-0. . . Christopher Newport faced East Texas Baptist in Saturday's late winners bracket game.