May 25, 2010

By Dan Myers
Special to NCAA.com

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- Not long after East Texas Baptist's comeback win Monday over Linfield in the NCAA Division III softball national championship game, the word "destiny" was mentioned in association with the Lady Tigers.

In fact, it took about two minutes.

"Team of destiny" is a cliche tossed around often in sports. But in this case, it fits.

An afterthought in its own conference tournament two weeks ago, the Tigers made the regional tournament as an at-large team. After losing the opening game of the regional tournament last weekend, the Tigers rolled to eight consecutive victories to capture, not only the regional title, but the national title too.

"The girls came up with their motto at the beginning of the season, 'No Regrets,'" said Tigers head coach Janae Shirley. "They did their 'Road to Wisconsin' posters like everyone else. But I don't think it was until a couple of weeks ago that they really began buying into that motto.

"We have a great group of seniors leading this team and they wanted to be able to walk off the field the last time and not be regretting the fact they didn't hustle or give everything they could."

ETBU didn't have the most talented team at Carson Park during the tournament. But they had the one with the most guts. Case in point: Both of Shirley's starting middle infielders have been playing with their shoulders in tatters.

Rebecca Young, who had an RBI double off the wall in Monday's title game, has played the last two weekends with a torn rotator cuff and a torn labrum. She'll have surgery now that the season's over, but she refused to until that day came.

"We haven't been talking about it much, but it was big that we were able to get the win (Monday)," Shirley said. "It's been a tough couple of weeks on us.

"When your starting second baseman has everything torn in her shoulder and refuses to have surgery until after the season … that starts to wear on you. It makes it harder to finish. Physically, it's just not gonna last much longer."

Ironically, the ability to last was ETBU's best quality at the World Series. In three of the four games in Eau Claire, including Monday's title game, the Tigers fell behind early only to claw back into games late. Of the 23 runs the Tigers scored in the tournament, 15 came in the final three innings. Linfield coach Jackson Vaughan's biggest regret from Monday was the fact his Wildcats couldn't build a bigger lead against ETBU early in the game.

"East Texas is such a scrappy team," he said.

Scrappy indeed. It wasn't the prettiest brand of softball, but ETBU played out their motto.

"I wanted to be able to tell myself that I gave everything I had and have no regrets," said senior Stacy Havner. "Now, I can do that."