St. Thomas Wins Title With 9-3 Win Over Salisbury

May 22, 2005

Coach John Tschida's Tommies (43-6) closed out a 9-3 victory over Salisbury (44-6) in Monday's championship round game at the NCAA Division III College World Series in Raleigh, N.C. That secured UST's second national softball title in a row -- tops out of 350 teams that compete in Division III softball.

UST posted three-run innings in the bottom of the fourth, fifth, and sixth to break open a scoreless game. The Toms' nine runs are the most scored by one team in a Division III softball championship game in the 24-year history of the tournament. They outhit the Sea Gulls 10-5.

"You have to be lucky, good and work hard," Tschida said. "To win two NCAA championships is amazing -- there are a lot of coaches and players who go a whole lifetime trying to get to one. It's nice to have the seniors be able to win two of them."

The 12th-ranked Toms outscored seven NCAA playoff foes 47-7 this year. Six of those NCAA postseason wins this season came vs. teams ranked Nos. 1-2-3-6 in the nation, including six wins over All-American pitchers.

Tschida (401-79, .835 win clip in 11 seasons) watched his Tommies win for the 18th game in a row and 32nd time in their last 33 games and move to 20-0 in postseason play over the last two seasons. That streak includes six conference playoff wins, and the fact they never trailed in their a 14-0 run in NCAA playoff games.

"St. Thomas hit the ball really well," said Salisbury head coach Margie Knight said. "They are one of the best hitting teams I've ever seen. The home run (pitch) Lacey (Lister) missed, but the others they hit were very good pitches. They did a nice job. I was pleased. We could have given in at 3-0, but we responded with two runs. We were able to manufacture some runs, but they just responded immediately. I couldn't have been happier the way we stormed back through the bottom half of the bracket."

The only other team to repeat as Division III softball champs was Eastern Connecticut State, which won in 1985 and 1986.

Senior All-Americans Michelle Wong and Kristi Huegel closed out their careers with two hits apiece, and Nikki Conway capped a monster NCAA playoff run with a bases-loaded triple that plated three runs for a 3-0 lead.

Wong and Huegel didn't make an error at second base and shortstop in 52 defensive chances over 10 postseason games.

Freshman pitcher Maria Bye came on with the score 6-2 and the bases loaded in the sixth inning. She allowed an RBI single but got a strikeout and pop out to end the threat. Bye earned a save in relief of Janet Nagle, who ran her career postseason record to 18-0 as she allowed four hits and no earned runs in 5 1-3 innings.

"We played such a tough regional last week that it was like having to win a World Series just to get to a World Series," Tschida said. "We went 3-0 at the regional in Iowa with big wins against Wash U. and Coe, and we knew if we could play near that level we'd be in good shape. Our pitchers were outstanding and Nikki Conway came up huge. It seems like every time we needed a big hit she same through."

In seven NCAA playoff games Conway batted .565 (13-for-23) with 12 runs, 11 RBI, four homers, a triple and three doubles, and sophomore teammate Carrie Embree hit .480 (10-for-21) with five runs and five RBI.

Wong finished her 173-game career as the conference all-time hits leader with 241 -- that ranks 19th in Division III history. Huegel finished with 19 homers among her 50 career extra-base hits. She had 186 hits, 145 RBI and 121 runs in 176 games.

Salisbury scored two unearned runs in the top of the fifth and loaded the bases in the sixth inning with one out but only scored once.

In St. Thomas' three-run fourth inning, Maria Bye walked, Mandy Evans ran her hitting streak to 10 games with a single and Colleen Fitzpatrick's infield single loaded the bases. Salisbury All-American pitcher Lacey Lister got a strikeout, but Conway's bases-clearing triple to right field made it 3-0.

"We said we wanted to get on top early," Tschida said. "They played a few extra games. We thought they might be a little tired, and we wanted to jump on them early. They played a great game and really battled."

The Sea Gulls took advantage of St. Thomas errors to pull within 3-2 in the top of the fifth. Tee Dronenburg led off with a single. Following a Nichole Fuqua sacrifice bunt, Kareem Falcon walked and Lister struck out to bring up Kim Rementer with two away. Rementer lifted a short pop fly on the backside of the pitcher's mound. A diving attempt to make the grab was unsuccessful, and the throw to second base slipped into center field to bring in pinch runner Eryn Mathews and Falcon.

St. Thomas reained the momentum as Huegel's solo home run to left to open the fifth put the lead back to two runs. Salisbury made the pitching switch from Lister to Kristen Wells, but the Toms' barragge continued. Colleen Fitzpatrick brought in another run with her single, and Carrie Embree scored another with her fielder's choice.

"We gave them those runs. We didn't want to beat ourselves," Huegel said. "We knew we had to answer back right away. She gave me a good pitch to hit, and I had a good cut at it."

Salisbury cut the St. Thomas lead in half with another run in the sixth as Fuqua singled to left and Serena Fleming scored on a misplayed ball.

The Tommies brought the game to its final deficit with three more runs in the sixth. Huegel capped her 2-for-3, two RBI day with a single that scored Conway, and the other two runs scored on a sacrifice fly by Embree and passed ball that plated Wong.

Together the trio of Conway, Wong and Huegel combined to go 5-for-10 in the game with four runs scored and five RBIs.

"Maria came in and closed the door," Tschida said. "It seems all the way through the playoffs we'd get a big lead and then open the door for the opponent. It's nice having Maria to come in. She was more relaxed, and I think getting her in the game Sunday was important because this game had a little more pressure. Janet struggling before helped us win this one."

Tschida wasn't happy with his team's play in Friday's first CWS game, a 5-2 win over Williams.

"I wasn't happy with our play or focus so we had a two-hour practice after that game," Tschida said. "We sent a message that we had to play at our level and not play to others' level, and it seemed to sink in."

St. Thomas secured the school's 12 national team championship and 21st top-two NCAA team placing. St. Thomas' previously has won women's cross country (1981, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1987), men's cross country (1984, 1986) women's basketball (1990-91), men's indoor track (1985) , baseball (2001). UST is among a select group of Division III institutions to win NCAA team championships in six or more sports.

Seniors Huegel, Wong, Katie Wiberg, Colleen and Kathleen Fitzpatrick were all part of two NCAA titles. In their four-year era, UST finished 159-25 (90-4 vs. conference opponents) and 24-3 in postseason play.

Tschida has won an NCAA title for the third time in six seasons -- he guided St. Mary's to the 2000 championship and led UST to the 2004 and 2005 crowns.

The Tommies beat Salisbury 5-0 on a no-hitter by Nagle in a Saturday winner's bracket game. The Sea Gulls then rebounded to win three elimination games, including a 10-inning win late Sunday over Ithaca and Monday's 3-1 win that eliminated Chapman. Salisbury was outhit 4-2 by the Panthers but got a two-run homer in the sixth inning to break a 1-1 deadlock. Chapman left 10 runners on base.

All-Tournament Team:
C - Nikki Conway, St. Thomas
1B - Erin Ruest, Salisbury
2B - Kim Tackett, Muskingum
3B - Kim Sanders, Chapman
SS - Amy Gaudard, Alma
OF - Leigh Bonkowski, Ithaca
OF - Serena Fleming, Salisbury
OF - Anne Westerman, Alma
P - Janet Nagle, St. Thomas
P - Lacey Lister, Salisbury
DP - Maria Bye, St. Thomas
At-Large - Carrie Embree, St. Thomas
At-Large - Jennifer Winford, Chapman
At-Large - Jessica Stangarone, Ithaca
At-Large - Keely Starr, Chapman

-- Courtesy St. Thomas, with information from the NFCA