NEWPORT, R.I. -- Third-seeded University of New England jumped out early and held on late to defeat No. 1 seed Salve Regina 3-2 capturing the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Championship at Toppa Field on Saturday afternoon.

Big Blue (26-12) gains the league's automatic qualification berth into the field of 61 for the NCAA DIvision III Softball Championship, which begins Thursday at eight regional sites around the country. The Nor'easters will find out their destination during Monday's 10 a.m. selection show that can be seen LIVE on

UNE won all four games it played in the double elimination tournament to secure the crown -- a feat the program achieved in its first year after joining the CCC, on the way to the 2000 championship. Earlier in the day, the Seahawks (24-16) eliminated Endicott (9-1 in 6 innings) to end the Gulls' nine-year reign atop the CCC ranks.

Ashley Gott -- the CCC Player of the Year -- opened the game in the first with a triple to left-center field, and, following an out, came in on a groundout by Erin Grover to give the visiting team a 1-0 edge.

The Nor'easters received another solid pitching performance from Kelly Reid, who retired the initial seven Salve batters she faced and was touched for one hit through three innings.

After stranding two with one out in the third, Big Blue added a pair of runs in the fourthth to bump the cushion to 3-0. One-out singles by Gabrielle LaRoche and Maegen Johnson put two aboard, and both advanced a base on a grounout. Adrienne Chase continued her timely postseason hitting with a single to right that cleared the bases.

It wasn't until the last half of the sixth that the Seahawks were able to string together any offense against Reid and the UNE defense. Salve notched four singles around an out to move one around to score, and a bases-loaded flyout drew the hosts to within 3-2. A hard grounder up the middle on the next play was snagged by Grover at second base and flipped to the bag to end the threat and maintain the lead.

UNE wasn't able to capitalize on a two-on, one-out situation in the top of the seventh to extend the margin, but two popouts to the shortstop and a groundout to first base in the bottom of the inning for the Seahawks sealed the one-run win.

Reid surrendered six hits and allowed no walks while striking out a pair to earn her fourth triumph of the tournament and go to 16-4 on the season. Chase and LaRoche each finished with two hits for the Nor'easters.

Afterward, UNE coach Dan Letellier praised his squad's effort. "We've really been stressing the concept of 'team' lately, and playing together, as one. Only one player is up at the plate at one time, but they are there representing and with the full support of everyone else. You could see that in the 2nd inning -- that grounder that bounced off one player and right to another, and we still got the out on the play."

Jen Cruver gave up eight hits and two walks in the circle for Salve, dropping her personal record to 23-16. Jennifer Edine went 2-for-3 at the plate with a run scored for the hosts' offense.

"I'm proud of this entire week," Letellier continued. "We had several players put together some pretty good performances during the tournament, against the league's best competition, on their fields. Cruver came back well after Thursday's game -- they made us earn it, and we went out there and did it together."