May 23, 2010

By Dan Myers
Special to NCAA.com

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- If Andrienne Meier was the hero in Friday's win and Porsha Harrison was on Saturday, there's little doubt who it was Sunday for East Texas Baptist.

With two outs in a tied game and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning, ETBU freshman first baseman Lauryn McCurry turned on a Claire Velaski pitch and drove it to left-center field for a grand slam, giving the Tigers a 6-2 victory over Linfield and a spot in Monday's NCAA Division III Softball Championship game.

East Texas Baptist is scheduled to play for the Division III title on Monday at 2:30 p.m.

So far, East Texas Baptist has been the talk of the tournament. It's the lowest-seeded team remaining, and with one more victory would win its first NCAA title in any sport.

"Something that's really great about this team is they all have each other's backs," ETBU coach Janae Shirley said. "Today, it's different people. Yesterday, it was different people. They do a great job of picking each other up, and that's how they've gotten as far as they have now."

The Tigers took the lead early Sunday, scoring on a Stacy Havner single in the top of the second to grab a 1-0 lead. But two base-running gaffes -- a failed suicide squeeze and a foiled steal attempt at third - ended hopes of a big inning.

Jaydee Baxter made it 1-1 for Linfield with a solo home run in the bottom of the third. The Wildcats grabbed a lead later in that inning on Emilee Lepp's double that scored Jordan Mixsell for 2-1.

ETBU took advantage of a Linfield error at short to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth, then strung together a walk, a single and walk to load the bases for McCurry.

"Going into it, I just wanted to get a base hit," McCurry said. "When I hit it, I knew it. I sprinted to the seniors so I could hug them."

McCurry said the grand slam was her first ever.
Sunday's win over Linfield somewhat avenged ETBU's elimination from the 2009 NCAA regional tournament. Linfield ended ETBU's season the latter's home field.

ETBU and Linfield could meet again Monday for the title if the Wildcats survive another elimination game. If Linfield beats the Eastern Connecticut State-Christopher Newport winner, the Wildcats will face ETBU again. ETBU needs one win for the title; all others will have to beat ETBU twice for the trophy.

"That (revenge) would come tomorrow," Shirley said. "We're here for one reason, and that's to win a national championship. This is just one step to get what we want."

ETBU pitcher Alicia Wright (17-4) worked five strong innings against a potent Linfield lineup, allowing two runs on six hits. Ayrika Henderson pitched the final two innings, allowing two hits.

The title-game appearance is also the first for a team from the American Southwest Conference.

"The American Southwest is a tough conference," Shirley said. "It helped us to get where we are right now because in every divisional game, we were playing tough opponents.

"Linfield is a lot like the teams in our conference. They have good hitters all the way through the lineup, and we've played teams like that all year, so our girls knew how to handle the pressure. I think that's something that helped prepare us."

The loss ended a 27-game winning streak for Linfield, their first defeat since a 12-8 setback to Whittier on March 24.