WENHAM, Mass. -- Sophomore third baseman Heather Tripp slammed a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to put second-seeded Saint Joseph’s ahead to stay in a 5-4 win against fifth-seeded Rivier College in the 2011 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship game on Sunday afternoon at Gordon College.

The three-run jack capped a five-run sixth inning that saw the Monks erase a 4-0 deficit and take their first lead of the day. With the victory and the automatic berth awarded to the GNAC champion, Saint Joseph’s (34-8, 21-3 GNAC) advances to the NCAA DIII Softball Tournament for the first time in team history.

SJC pitcher Maddie Kluna garnered GNAC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors while Tripp, pitcher Rae-Marie Copan and outfielder Emily Leverone collected all-tournament accolades for the Monks.

Rivier (26-14, 14-10 GNAC) took the early lead as Nicole Peacock opened the game with a leadoff home run to left field. Following a ground out, Amanda Ryan singled and later scored on a Kirstie Clark base hit.

The Raiders added to the lead with a run in the second as Lauren Beatty singled through the right side. A walk to Catherine Roy was followed by a Ryan RBI single for a 3-0 lead.

Rivier got its last run in the third inning when Britttnii Dyer doubled and scored on a Myranda Knight single.

Neither team could muster any sustained offense until the Monks batted in the bottom of the sixth. Katelyn Call reached on an error and moved to second as Danyelle Shufelt singled to deep short. Connie Grovo walked to load the bases and, after a line drive out to left field, Jill Howard had an RBI groundout to shortstop to deliver the Monks’ first run. Alyssa Dunn grounded to short, but the throw was wide of the bag at first and all runners were safe as Shufelt scored setting up Tripp’s heroics.

A solid pitching performance by Copan carried the Monks until the SJC lineup, which produced just four hits, hung the five-spot in the bottom of the sixth. Copan entered the game in the second inning in relief for starter and allowed one run off four hits with five strikeouts in five innings. Kluna fanned both batters she faced in the top of the seventh to record her third save of the year.

Howard saw her 29-game hitting streak come to an end and Kluna tied the program’s career record for saves (six) in the championship contest.

Beatty suffered the loss for the Raiders as the freshman hurler allowed five unearned runs off four hits and a walk with three strikeouts in six innings. Ryan was 3 for 4 with a run, a double and an RBI in the losing effort.

The Monks, 25-3 since the start of April, currently have the third-most wins in program history behind the 1996 (38-11) and 1995 (37-9) clubs.