SALEM, Va. – Fittingly, it was a home run that was the difference for the Linfield College Wildcats, the newly crowned NCAA Division III softball champions.
The Wildcats capitalized on a timely weather delay, a gusty wind and a two-headed monster in the pitching circle to defeat Christopher Newport (Va.) 6-2 on Tuesday in the championship game of the NCAA Finals at Moyer Sports Complex. The team hoisted the college’s second softball trophy in five years and celebrated the eighth overall title in school history.
Ranked No. 1 all season long, Linfield finished with 51 wins against three losses, setting a new Division III record for victories in one season. Unranked Christopher Newport, whose only defeats at the NCAA Finals came on consecutive days to Linfield, finished its season at 38-12.
Karleigh Prestianni smacked her 14th home run of the season and Linfield’s NCAA-record 103rd, delivering the extra push the Wildcats needed in the sixth inning to break a 2-2 tie following a lightning delay.
Unable to take full advantage of four CNU errors through the first five innings, the Wildcats managed just two runs and four hits off of Captains starter Krista Townsend.
|Linfield’s Late Rally|
|12-1 vs. Cortland||Highlights||Box|
|7-1 vs. UT-Tyler||Highlights||Box|
|6-0 vs. Chris. Newport||Highlights||Box|
|6-2 vs. Christ. Newport||Highlights||Box|
Townsend held Linfield’s heavy hitters in check for much of the day, striking out seven Wildcats through the first five frames. She recorded only one more out after play resumed from the weather delay.
Two CNU miscues led directly to the game’s first run. Linfield leadoff hitter Kayla Hubrich reached base on a fielding error by shortstop Candice Zollars and moved to second when Emilee Lepp was hit by a pitch. Following a double steal that put runners at second and third with one out, Staci Doucette reached base on a second error by Zollars, forcing Hubrich home.
The Wildcats led 1-0 until the top of the fourth inning. Chelsea Mitchell singled a 2-2 pitch off Wildcats starter Claire Velaski, allowing Ashley Mani enough time to score from third.
Linfield went back on top in the bottom of the frame. Alex Hartmann singled to left field and advanced to second on an error by second baseman Jennifer Falin. A clutch two-out single by Jordan Mixsell pushed Hartmann home and the Wildcats led 2-1.
Lauren Harvey relieved Velaski to begin the fifth inning and the Captains promptly loaded the bases with no outs. Jessie Atkinson picked up the game-tying RBI with a high ground ball to the middle of the infield, forcing the Wildcats to work the out at second base rather than trying to gun down Kelly Foate at home plate.
The Wildcats put a runner in scoring position in the fifth but couldn’t push her home. Lepp singled to right-center field and stole second. But Townsend struck out Doucette swinging at a full-count pitch and Emily Keagbine grounded out to end the inning.
A thunderstorm moved over the field and light rain began to fall in the sixth, forcing a nearly one-hour delay. The field and stands were cleared with the score knotted at 2.
When play resumed, the Wildcats put the Captains down 1-2-3 in the top of the sixth. The storm had passed but the wind was still gusty, and a stiff breeze to the outfield kicked up as Prestianni stepped to the plate. The Wildcat slugger smacked her fourth homer of the tournament over the right field wall, touching off a wild celebration from the dugout.
After Prestianni homered to make it 3-2, Hartmann singled, Sami Keim sacrificed her to second base, then Hartmann scored on Mixsell’s RBI single to center field. Moments later, Lepp delivered a two-run, game-clinching single through the left side of the infield.
Harvey earned the win to finish the season with a spotless 16-0 record. She scattered four hits and allowed one run while Velaski surrendered three hits, two walks and one earned run.
CNU had won seven consecutive playoff games before running into the Linfield buzzsaw. A day earlier, the Wildcats handed the Captains their first shutout since the third game of the season. Emerging from the winners bracket, CNU only needed to defeat Linfield once to claim the university’s first NCAA title in any sport. It wasn’t to be.