WEST CHESTER, Pa. -- Senior right-handed pitcher Kim Murl scattered five hits in seven innings to lead host West Chester to a series-clinching 3-1 victory against visiting West Virginia Wesleyan in a decisive Game 3 of their Atlantic Super Regional series on Sunday afternoon.
West Chester (41-20) advances to the NCAA Division II national finals for the first time in school history after taking the regional series two games to one. West Virginia Wesleyan (45-16), who had staved off elimination in the regional tournament four times prior to Sunday, could not overcome Murl's determination in the later innings.
"In the fourth inning, [Murl's] stuff really began to move," West Chester head coach Diane Lokey said. "As soon as I saw her stuff start diving, I knew a two-run lead was enough."
From the fourth inning on, Murl retired 13 of the last 15 batters she faced, yielding only a pair of scratch singles. Four of the last five outs recorded were groundouts while Murl also struck out a batter.
"I felt more fluid, and my pitches began to break more," Murl explained. "I just made sure my pitches were off the plate. That's what helped me get through the last few innings."
"I think she just hit her groove," West Chester catcher Erin Quense said. "Everything was working after that. She stayed strong all weekend."
West Virginia Wesleyan jumped on the board first with a sacrifice fly in the second inning. However, West Chester answered right back in their bottom half. Quense began a two-out rally with a single to left. Kim Begley then doubled down the left-field line to put two runners in scoring position. Megan Kelly then hit a grounder to third, but the throw over to first pulled West Virginia Wesleyan's first baseman off the bag, allowing Quense to tie the game.
In the third, Kelly Anderson led off with a triple to right-center, and Jess Schuck followed that with a double to left-center, scoring Anderson, and chasing West Virginia Wesleyan starter Jacqui Omichinski. Janessa Rios came on to run for Schuck at second base. She would eventually score on a pair of wild pitches.
Bobcats' reliever Jessica Griffin retired the first 11 batters she faced, and only allowed a double in the seventh to Jill Murray the rest of the way. She settled down following the two wild pitches and kept the Golden Rams off the scoreboard. However, Murl kept West Virginia Wesleyan's bats silent.
"We are super excited. This just goes to show you how hard work can pay off," Lokey added. "We had a 'Road To Salem' checklist all year. We had these measurable tasks to accomplish, and here we are. We are going.
"This could not have happened to a better group of seniors. I can't really put into words what they have meant to this program. But, part of it is just staying focused. All the seniors said, 'Now we have something else to check off our list.'"
Anderson finished 1-for-2 at the plate with a triple and a run scored. She was a combined 5-for-10 with four runs scored and a RBI in the three-game series.
"I changed my mental preparation, and I just tried to enjoy my last postseason and these last few games," Anderson said. "This is an unbelievable feeling. The first day of practice, we all said that the road to Salem begins here. But, we never really gave it much of a thought during the regular season. Now, here we are"
Begley went 1-for-2 on Sunday and finished the three-game series 3-for-8 with a pair of doubles. She also made two spectacular catches in right field during Saturday's doubleheader.
The Golden Rams will play Armstrong Atlantic (35-13) out of the Southeast Region on Thursday at 12 p.m. ET in their first game in Salem, Virginia. The double-elimination tournament will be held May 22-26 with the national champion being crowned next Monday afternoon.