SALEM, Va. -- DePauw is one of eight teams that made it to the Division III Softball Championship at the Moyer Complex, and coach Erica Hanrahan credits a challenging week of non-conference games as one of the reasons the Tigers are still playing in late May.
When it was time for DePauw to take its spring break trip, Hanrahan decided to make it a true working vacation.
The Tigers (35-14) headed to the East Coast and right to the Maryland campus of a Division III softball power -- Salisbury. That was followed by a pair of games at another quality program, Christopher Newport, in Newport News, Virginia. Finally, DePauw visited Lynchburg (Va.), one of the better teams in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.The Tigers went 2-4 on the trip -- almost to the delight of Hanrahan. She wasn’t necessarily happy about losing more games than winning. But she thought the competition might pay off down the road.
“That was the beginning of our road, and we’ve gained experience and momentum since then,” Hanrahan said. "If you play against these teams, then you’ll learn how play with these teams and hopefully beat these teams.”
At 35-14, DePauw certainly does not have the flashiest record in the tournament. But since knocking off Denison 6-0 in the final of its conference tournament, the Tigers have scored at least five runs in every game since then. They are averaging better than eight runs per game. The offense came in handy when the Tigers overcame a 7-0 deficit after two innings in Game 3 of their NCAA super regional final against Moravian and ended up winning 10-7.
“That was really nothing new,” Hanrahan said. “We were ahead in one game of the postseason, so we’ve continued to battle back.”
In the super regional finale, Hanrahan put senior pitcher Kahla Nolan in after the Tigers fell behind, and left it up to her to slow down the opponents while her team’s offense figured out how to catch up.
“I figured it’s her last game if she doesn’t get out of it, so she’d be ready,” Hanrahan said. “She’s a competitor and she knew if she could hold it there, the way we’ve been hitting the last month or so has been pretty wild, we would still have a chance.”
That was indeed the case. The Tigers scored at least two runs in each of the next four innings to take the lead and advance.
“It was a crazy weekend,” Hanrahan said. "It was definitely stressful, but it's exciting. Everyone was confident that [it] would come around if we just let it happen.”
And while much of the upcoming experiences will be new to the Tigers, there is some familiarity as well.
Salisbury -- last year’s national runner-up which welcomed the Tigers on spring break, then swept them in a doubleheader -- is DePauw’s first-round opponent.
“We’ve been there, we’ve seen them now,” Hanrahan said. “Salisbury would be an even more scary opponent if we hadn’t faced them already.”
Also, during that road trip that took the Tigers around Maryland and Virginia, the team took a side trip to Salem so it could practice at the Moyer Complex.
“I was excited when we were here before,” said third baseman Taylro Golden, who along with Nolan and second baseman Jen Ridge are the only seniors on the roster. “It was nice to have the opportunity to come here and have a little bit of a preview of what being here might be like.”
Now the Tigers hope to make their second trip to Salem a lengthier affair.
“Coming here as an unranked team who kind of had a rough middle of the season … and to come back and get to this point is super exciting,” Nolan said. “But I think that just getting here shouldn’t be satisfying enough. We’re here for a reason, and we have a chance to win it, just like anyone here does.”
Also participating in this year’s Division III softball championship:
At 46-0, the two-time defending champions should be considered at least a favorite, if not the favorite of the tournament. Pitcher Allyson Fournier is 30-0 and was the winning pitcher in all eight of the Jumbos' postseason games.
The Cougars (30-13-1) reached the championship tournament by taking full advantage of the double-elimination format in the regional and super regional. Kean came back to beat William Patterson in the regional final after being shut out by the same team earlier in the day.
At the super regional, the Cougars topped Wheaton (Mass.) 4-2 this past Saturday afternoon after being shut out 8-0 that same morning.
All three of the Patriots' losses were to East Texas Baptist, including Texas-Tyler's second game of the regional tournament. But the Patriots (47-3) came back and beat their conference rival twice to advance to the super regional, where they easily swept Emory.
It's doubtful too many fans will attempt to drive from Linfield's home base in McMinnville, Oregon, all the way to Salem. It would be about a 2,800-mile drive.
To get to the tournament, the Wildcats (37-13) had to play both their regional and super regional in Iowa.
Linfield's football team won the Division III national championship in 2004. That game was played just down the road in Salem Stadium.
The Sea Gulls (36-6) are the last team to beat Tufts, which happened in last year's national tournament.
Salisbury got its chance to improve on last year's runner-up finish by sweeping Christopher Newport in the super regional. That happened after CNU had beaten the Gulls three of four times earlier in the season.
The Saxons (40-5) had to overcome a Game 1 loss to Heidelberg in last week's super regional. They won Game 2 by scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh, and then scored an 8-6 win in the rubber game.
Senior Alison Wickwire had 16 home runs.
The good news for the Scots (30-15) is pitcher Morgan Stratton has allowed just one earned run in NCAA regional and super regional play.
The not-so-good news is Alma opens against unbeaten Tufts, so the sophomore will be challenged immediately.