Interactive NCAA Finals Bracket
Day 1 Video Recap
SALEM, Va. – Back-to-back home runs by Karleigh Prestianni and Alex Hartmann provided the knockout punch for the Linfield Wildcats, who moved a step closer to their second NCAA national championship with a 10-0 five-inning whitewash of SUNY-Cortland Friday in the opening game of the Division III Finals at Moyer Sports Complex.
The Wildcats set a new team record with their 46th win and advance in the winners bracket to play Texas-Tyler (39-11) Saturday at 1 p.m. Pacfiic time.
The Wildcats’ script was a familiar one: Score early, play defense and let lefthander Claire Velaski perform her magic from the pitching circle.
Velaski held the Red Dragons without a hit until the fifth, but by then the Wildcats had built a double-digit lead and against a red-hot Velaski, it was too little, too late. Cassie Kardias singled to right-center field to break up Velaski’s bid for a no-hitter, and after Meaghan Kohler reached base on a fielder’s choice, Linfield’s long-armed senior slammed the door by striking out Nicole Gallo and Katie Fusco both swinging to end the game.
Velaski, winner of seven postseason games this spring, improved to 24-1.
“Claire’s been great for us all year. We have a really deep pitching staff and we haven’t really had to use it,” said Wildcats coach Jackson Vaughan. “We feel really good about our No. 2 and 3 pitchers. We kinda thought going into the playoffs we would use all three of them, sort of a three-headed monster, but Claire has been pitching so well we scrapped that and said, ‘If you’re going to pitch shutouts every game, let’s just keep you throwing.'”
Eighth-ranked Cortland (40-4-1) saw its 29-game unbeaten streak ended and fell into the losers bracket of the eight-team double-elimination tournament.
Prestianni and the Wildcats piled up 11 hits on Cortland hurlers Lyndsay Rowell and Morgan Kuhn. Named a second team All-American a day earlier, Prestianni went 3-for-3 in the game, driving in five runs. Her leadoff single through the right side began a six-run landslide in the second inning. Kayla Hubrich notched a ground-out RBI before Jaydee Baxter and Staci Doucette each planted run-scoring singles to put the Wildcats in front 4-0. Still in the second inning, Prestianni returned to the plate to deliver a two-run single down the left-field line and the Wildcats were looking every bit as impressive as their 4-0 run through the Pella (Iowa) Regional.
“Our lineup is really producing all the way through. Really, our No. 1 through 7 hitters are pretty dang good,” said Wildcats coach Jackson Vaughan. “When they are all playing pretty good, we’re going to score a lot of runs. We’ve had all them giving us quality at-bats.”
Emilee Lepp was 2-for-3 with a double, one of eight Wildcats with at least one hit.
Velaski nearly became the 14th pitcher in Division III history to throw a no-hitter at the NCAA Finals.
“When our hitters are hitting as well as they have been, it’s easy to be relaxed,” said Velaski, who pitched her fifth straight shutout in the playoffs. “When you have confidence in your offense like I have in mine, you go out and do the best you can and hope for the best. Luckily, that’s been able to work out so far.”
‘CAT SCRATCH: Nearly 30 parents and grandparents were in attendance to cheer on the Wildcats. . . also in attendance was former All-American Stephanie Rice (2005-08), Linfield's all-time leader in hits, runs scored and stolen bases. . . Velaski recorded her fifth consecutive shutout in the playoffs . . . with her 24th win, she also equaled the Linfield single-season mark held by former All-American Brittany Miller (2005-08) . . . Rowell (24-3) entered the game sporting a 0.65 ERA. . . Cortland assistant coach Kevin Jackson was a member of the Red Dragons’ baseball team that met Linfield twice last spring in the NCAA Finals. . . Texas-Tyler advanced with a 1-0 victory over Luther (Iowa) in the tournament's second game. . . in later games Friday, Messiah beat DePauw 1-0 in 10 innings and Christopher Newport came from behind to surprise Eastern Connecticut 8-7 in eight innings.