ETBU wins National Championship

Posted by Coleman Swierc

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (ETBU Sports Information) – A team that never said die over the last week now lives forever in the history books.

East Texas Baptist scored two runs in the seventh inning to cap yet another late-inning comeback and nip Linfield College, 5-4, to win the 2010 NCAA Division III Softball Championship. The Tigers (40-12) become the first program from ETBU to win an NCAA championship and are also the first team from the American Southwest Conference to be crowned national champions in softball.

"This is just an amazing feeling," said ETBU head coach Janae Schlabs-Shirley, a former Tiger outfielder who completed just her third year as a head coach with the national title. "I'm so proud of these girls most of all because they are all great people and they want to glorify God in all that they do. Being a former player and understanding what it means to be a Lady Tiger, I know I speak for all the players who have come through our program that we are proud of what this team has accomplished."

Monday's title-winning game was yet another storybook ending to what was truly a magical run through the NCAA Tournament for ETBU. At the World Series alone ETBU scored 15 runs in the fifth through the seventh innings and cruised through the tournament with a 4-0 record that included two wins over a powerful and deeply-talented Linfield team.

The Tigers closed their championship season by winning eight straight games, and ETBU either trailed or was tied in the last two innings in six of those. Trailing 4-1 in Monday's game going to the fifth inning, the Tigers again loaded the bases in both frames but could only come away with two runs to enter the final inning trailing the Wildcats 4-3.

But somehow ETBU found a way. Brooke Martin started the bottom of the seventh with a long single to left-center, and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Beck Young. Alicia Wright then bounced a hard grounder to shortstop Emily Keagbine, who bobbled the ball with Martin cutting in front of her to allow Wright to reach and put runners at the corners with one out.

Meghan Fisher then worked the count against Linfield's Claire Velaski to 2-2 before pushing a game-tying RBI single to right, moving Wright to second and scoring Martin. Lya Swaner then grounded out, moving both runners up with the second out.

That brought senior shortstop Stacy Havner to the plate. Havner jumped on the first pitch and hit a tough hopper to second base, and the ball skipped off the left shoulder of Linfield's Alex Hartmann. That set off a wild celebration for the Tigers, who mobbed Havner along the first base line.

"I saw it bounce away and just ran through the bag," said Havner, one of four seniors on the team but just one of two, along with Adrienne Meier, who played all four years of her college career as a Tiger. "Then I just turned around and started looking for my teammates."

For the second game in a row the Tigers kept the powerful lineup of Linfield within striking distance, although the Wildcats got things going a little more in this game than in Sunday's winner's bracket final. All-American Staci Doucette, the nation's leader in home runs, blasted a two-run dinger – her 20th of the year – off Wright to give the Wildcats a quick 2-0 lead.

The Tigers answered with an unearned run in the fourth on Young's double to center that missed tying the game as a homer by just a foot or so off the wall.

Linfield bounced back and increased its lead to 4-1 in the fifth, on a two-run single by Karleigh Prestianni. ETBU would then load the bases twice over the next two innings but could only get to within the one run, setting up the walk-off dramatics in the seventh.

Senior Ayrika Henderson (21-7) relieved Wright in the sixth inning and was the winning pitcher, allowing just one hit with one strikeout. Velaski (20-4) took the loss for Linfield, her second in two days to ETBU.

The Tigers join the ETBU men's soccer team as the only programs on campus to win national titles, as the Tiger soccer men won back-to-back National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) championships in 1998 and 1999.