SALEM, Va. -- More than two months had passed since Dixie State had lost a game before Friday night at the NCAA Division II Softball Championships.
And to say that 8-0, five-inning loss to Valdosta State was hard for the Red Storm to take would probably be a bit of an understatement. A 27-game winning streak had ended, and the team knew that if its new one-game slide became a two-game losing streak, the season would end.
“It was hard,” Dixie State junior second baseman Nicole Chavez said. “It had to soak in. It was emotional, and I'm sure it was even more emotional for our seniors. But we all had to step it up, and get the job done [Saturday].”Chavez was the first player to step back into the batter’s box in the top of the first inning on Saturday, which the Red Storm took on West Chester in an elimination game at Moyer Sports Complex. She singled.
That was followed by a planned hit-and-run that ended up being a stolen base for Chavez. She moved around to third on a ground out, then scored when Courtney Sherwin doubled her in. It was just the kind of start Dixie State needed. And the Red Storm reached the tournament’s semifinals with a 4-3 win.
“If you're leading off, then let's get it done,” Chavez said. “I think it's sort of like a chain reaction. If one person gets a hit, we're going to keep going and keep going.”
She was right. The Red Storm scored twice in that inning. And then Chavez, who got another at-bat in the second inning, made it 3-0 when she homered with two outs.
“It felt awesome,” she said. “I got the whole part of the ball, which is amazing. It's the best feeling ever to get that inside pitch, and feel the hands going through. It was a great feeling.”
Chavez’s influence was felt throughout the game, both on offense and defense. She was even at the end of a key double play that ended West Chester’s last chance to either tie or take the lead in the seventh inning. With a runner on first and no one out, the Golden Rams, who had gotten to within a run, tried to bunt the runner over to second base, but the attempt popped up to catcher Marla Reiter, who made the catch, then threw the ball down to Chavez, who had moved to cover first base.
After the dust settled, Chavez was holding on to the ball with a big smile as the umpire signaled out.
“When I saw the bunt go up, I was just so pumped,” Chavez said. “I just reached out for it, and was not going to let go of that ball.”
One out later, the Red Storm was again a winner.
Now all they need is to up the current streak to four games – which would mean beating top-ranked West Texas A&M twice – and Dixie State can leave Salem as a national champion.