REDLANDS, Calif. - With its back against the wall in the NCAA Division III West Region tournament, Linfield beat La Verne twice, 12-9 and 1-0, to clinch the regional title on Mother's Day at the University of Redlands' Field of Dreams.
La Verne, which saw a nine-game winning streak halted, ends its season 33-12.
Linfield (35-9) advances to compete in the eight-team Division III championship finals, hosted by Peace College. The national championship tournament is scheduled for May 18-22 at the Walnut Creek Softball Complex in Raleigh, N.C.
Linfield lost its first game Thursday in the double-elimination tournament. With one foot in the grave, the Wildcats won six in a row, including defeating La Verne twice on the final day.
Linfield and La Verne combined for 26 hits in a see-saw battle that featured three home runs.
Linfield took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a mammoth home run by Amanda Attleberger that sailed 25 feet beyond the left-field fence. The Leopards countered with a three-run homer by All-American Kelley Silagyi off of Linfield starter Brittany Miller. After issuing consecutive walks, Miller was relieved in favor of Kendra Strahm.
A six-run second inning turned the tables back in the Wildcats' favor in a hurry. Linfield pounded out five hits on freshman pitcher Kelly Ince, who also walked three in the inning.
Linfield added to its lead with a solo home run by Bethany Dobie in the third. It was the first homer of her career and snapped the senior's hitless streak at the West Region tournament.
La Verne cut the lead to five in the third on an RBI single by Jessica DeGiacomo. The Leopards put runners at second and third with two outs, but Strahm got Theresa Reyes to ground out and escape the jam.
In the sixth, Attleberger took a two-strike, two-out pitch, driving it low to the outfield to score Shelly Steinke from third. Trailing 10-4, the Leopards moved runners to second and third, and Silagyi delivered an RBI single, then Amanda Jones bunted in another run. Morgan Dobis plated a sacrifice RBI, to close ULV to 10-7.
Linfield added two runs in the top of the seventh, as Stephanie Rice drove in both tallies with the bases loaded and one out. The Leopards singled consecutively to lead off the bottom of the inning. But Strahm struck out Reyes and Ashley Savage. Jodi Lindsay blasted a shot to the outfield, scoring two ULV runs, but Lindsay was thrown out at third base by Lisa Smith.
The deciding game was 180 degrees opposite of the first. Instead of a hitting fest, the Wildcats and Leopards waged a pitching duel.
Brittany Miller, who was severely rattled in Game 1, returned to form. Miller struck out 11 Leopards and held the power-hitting team to five hits to improve her record to 15-1.
Shelly Steinke scored the game's only run in the fourth following the senior captain's triple. A sacrifice fly by Attleberger plated Steinke. Stephanie Morgan launched a double down the right-field line, tying the Linfield single-season record. Amy Hammons blooped a single to right, but Morgan was thrown out at home plate to end the inning.
The Leopards put a runner at second in the fifth, but Jodi Lindsay popped out to Smith in left field for the third out. Miller struck out the the final batter in the seventh for the win, touching off a wild celebration.
'CAT SCRATCH: Named to the all-tournament team from Linfield were Loop, Attleberger, Rice, Steinke and Miller. . .Rice, who equaled Steinke's school record 22-game hitting streak, went on to break Steinke's 2004 single-season record for most hits with 65. . . with two home runs in Game 1, the Wildcats broke the team record of 20 set last season.