Linfield surges ahead, stays alive
Lepp goes 4 for 4 with two-RBI triple to pace Wildcats
SALEM, Va. – Needing to defeat a first team All-America pitcher to keep its season alive, No. 1 Linfield knocked off ninth-ranked Eastern Connecticut 9-1 in six innings at the NCAA Division III Finals at Moyer Sports Complex.
The Warriors (35-7) saw their dreams of winning a national championship doused by the Wildcats for the second consecutive season.
One day after being shut out 4-0 by Texas-Tyler and seeing their school-record 35-game win streak halted, the 'Cats (47-3) faced the challenge of trying to get past two-time first team All-American Molly Rathbun.
Unbeaten but pitching her first game in a month, Linfield pitcher Lauren Harvey outdueled her more decorated counterpart, holding the Warriors to four hits and one run. Harvey struck out seven batters without issuing a walk to pocket her 14th victory of the season against no losses.
Limited to four hits against UT-Tyler, the Linfield offense reappeared with 11 hits on Rathbun, who entered the game with a glossy 24-2 record and 274 strikeouts. Against the Wildcats, Rathbun was her skillful self before the Wildcat bats hit their groove for a pair of four-run innings late in the game.
Linfield put runners at second and third base with one out in the first, but Rathbun got off the hook by striking out All-America slugger Staci Doucette and getting Emily Keagbine to line out to shortstop Megan Godwin.
The ‘Cats again put two runners in scoring position in the third and this time Doucette delivered a sacrifice bunt to score Jaydee Baxter for the game’s first run.
Eastern answered in the next inning. Arielle Cooper doubled to left field and Rachel Soychak knocked a full-count pitch from Harvey to send Cooper home, tying the game at 1.
A four-run eruption in the fifth put Linfield in control, and it was an Eastern coaching decision that opened the door for the Wildcats.
Christine Akcer replaced Rathbun to begin the inning and promptly walked the first two batters she faced. With Jordan Mixsell parked at second and Kayla Hubrich at first, Rathbun returned to the game with the task of working the Warriors out of the jam.
Emilee Lepp slapped a standup triple down the right-field line and the Wildcats led 3-1. Doucette then knocked a double to right field, plating Lepp, and Keagbine pushed pinch runner Shelby VandeBergh home with a single to right-center.
Lepp, who went hitless against UT-Tyler, bounced back with a 4 for 4 performance. She drove in two runs and scored twice herself. Doucette and Karleigh Prestianni also drove in multiple runs for the Wildcats, who totaled four extra-base hits.