Rita Hokianga, Brittany Gehle lead West Texas A&M to national championship
SALEM, Va. -- The 2014 NCAA Division II Softball Championship game was billed as a battle of two of the best offensive teams in the nation, but the two student-athletes in the circle had other plans as Monday's contest turned into a pitcher's duel before West Texas A&M's Brittany Gehle registered her first hit of the weekend on a three-run blast with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to give the No. 1 Lady Buffs the first national title in program history as they topped No. 16 Valdosta State 3-2 at the Moyer Sports Complex.
WT ended its dream season at 60-7 while the Blazers end their campaign at 47-15.
The opening inning saw the Lady Buffs register the game's first base runner as Renee Erwin registered a full-count walk with two outs in the top of the first but a popup ended the threat. WT's Rita Hokianga continued her hot streak in the circle during the bottom half of the inning as the junior lefty forced a popup to right field followed by a pair of strikeouts.
The top of the second inning saw Jessica Sipe register a leadoff walk on four consecutive pitches before the Blazers tallied the first out via the strikeout. Mallory Wyatt flew out to the foul line in shallow right field for the second out followed by VSU's third strikeout of the game to end the inning. The home half of the inning started with Erwin making a running grab in the right-center field gap for the first out followed by another flyout to right. Sipe ended the inning as she fielded a grounder at the hot corner and fired across the diamond.
The next few innings continued to be a pitchers' duel as both arms carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning as a Hannah Strickland infield single to Alyssa Lemos at shortstop ended Hokianga's perfect game as the Blazers put runners on the corners with two outs before she registered her sixth strikeout of the game to end the threat. The top of the sixth inning saw Erwin break up VSU's Brianna Hancock's no-no with a single to left center with two outs before she stole second to move into scoring position but a flyout to right followed.
The bottom of the sixth inning saw the Blazers register the first extra-base hit of the game as Shelby Altman doubled to center field with two outs followed by a walk on a 3-1 Hokianga offering to put runners on first and second. The New Zealand native Hokianga got out of the frame as she forced a popup to Sipe.
The top of the seventh inning saw Sipe show her senior leadership once again as the Phoenix native lined a stand-up double off of the right-center field wall to lead off the inning. Valdosta forced an infield popup for the first out followed by a popup in foul territory in front of the first-base dugout before Lacey Taylor registered a walk to put runners on first and second with two outs. Gehle gave the Lady Buffs the 3-0 lead on a blast to left field on a 1-0 offering to head to the bottom of the seventh inning just three outs away from a title.
The Blazers wouldn't go down without as fight as WT registered the first two outs of the frame before Valdosta State hit back-to-back solo home runs to cut the lead to 3-2. Hokianga wouldn't be denied as she ran her game strikeout total to eight when VSU's April Collins was called out looking to end the game.
Hokianga moved to 29-3 on the season, giving up two runs on four hits with two walks and the eight strikeouts as she picked-up all-tournament team accolades while being named the championship's MVP.