SALEM, Va. – Winning three elimination games consecutively against three different opponents, the Linfield Wildcats crashed the NCAA Division III national championship party for the third time in five seasons.
In order on Monday, Linfield defeated SUNY-Cortland (12-1 in five innings) and Texas-Tyler (7-1) in elimination games, then handed the tournament’s only unbeaten team, Christopher Newport, a 6-0 loss to force a second national championship contest at the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.
Winning their school-record 50th game of the 2011 season, the streaking Wildcats face Christopher Newport Tuesday at 7 a.m. Pacific time. The game was originally scheduled for 8 a.m. PDT, but fearing possible thunderstorms, tournament officials bumped the start time ahead one hour.
LINFIELD 6, CHRISTOPHER NEWPORT 0
Claire Velaski and Lauren Harvey combined for a four-hit shutout of the unranked Captains, who came into the game hitting .382 and averaging more than nine runs a game in the championship tournament.
Karleigh Prestianni drove in three runs, including her 13th homer of the season, while Emilee Lepp and Kayla Hubrich picked up two hits each for the Wildcats, who played for the national title in 2010 but fell 4-3 to eventual champion East Texas Baptist in the championship game. Linfield won its only NCAA crown in softball in 2007.
Prestianni broke the ice with a RBI single in the top of the third inning, scoring Emily Keagbine from second base. Keagbine had singled, then snuck over to second when the Captains were caught napping on defense following her base hit.
Harvey earned the win in relief of Velaski to improve to 15-0. Velaski pitched the first two innings, striking out a pair of Captains and allowing two hits and a walk.
Tied 1-1, the Wildcats added a couple of runs in the fifth, then another in the sixth to go on top 4-0. Lepp singled and stole second to lead off the Linfield fifth. Staci Doucette drove in Lepp with a single to right field. Alex Hartmann later added a run-scoring double and the Wildcats led 3-0. In the sixth, Lepp doubled, scoring Jaydee Baxter from first base.
Prestianni provided some additional distance for the ‘Cats in the seventh, blasting a two-run homer over the left-field wall.
Whitney Haller went the distance in the circle for CNU, surrendering 12 hits, four walks against just one strikeout.
LINFIELD 7, TEXAS-TYLER 1
Armed with extra incentive, top-ranked Linfield put to rest the hex of the Texas-Tyler Patriots, a team that had handed them four consecutive defeats in the NCAA Division III playoffs, including season-ending extra-inning losses in 2008 and 2009.
The Wildcats broke loose from a 1-all tie with a six-run explosion in the fourth inning. Though Patriots pitcher Stacy Shepherd prevented Linfield from its bread-and-butter play – the home run – the Wildcats cashed in nine hits and a pair of UTT errors to vault themselves into the national championship game for the second-straight season.
Baxter doubled and drove in a pair of runs, and freshman designated player Haylie Watson came through with a pair of key hits to help the Wildcats avenge a 4-0 blanking to the Patriots earlier in the eight-team, double-elimination Division III Finals.
Karina Paavola pitched the first four innings, giving a up run and four hits. Once the Wildcats pounced on the Patriots for a 7-1 lead in the fourth, Harvey came on in relief and held UT-Tyler hitless the rest of the way.
Shepherd (18-5) took the loss in her final game in Patriots uniform. Fellow seniors Whitney Wyly had a pair of hits, but All-American Brittanni Hanna was held without a hit.
LINFIELD 12, SUNY-CORTLAND 1, 5 INNINGS
Baxter hit two home runs and the Linfield Wildcats pounded 16 hits to storm past SUNY-Cortland in the completion of an elimination game that was suspended Sunday night by rain and lightning.
Eighth-ranked SUNY-Cortland (41-5-1) lost to Linfield for the second time in three days, ending the Red Dragons’ season.
Baxter drove in five runs and led the way with three hits. Doucette and Prestianni also smacked home runs.
Velaski and Harvey combined to pitch a four-hitter. Together, they struck out four and didn’t walk a single batter in the game, shortened to five innings by the eight-run rule. Velaski picked up the victory to improve to 25-2, setting a new club record for most wins in one season.
‘CAT SCRATCH: A significant lightning storm moved through the area Sunday night, causing the Linfield-Cortland game to be suspended . . the decision to postpone wasn’t made until after 10 o’clock . . . appearing in her 185th, 186th and 187th career games, Hartmann broke the Linfield record for games played, surpassing the mark of 184 set by Amanda Attleberger (2005-08). . . Hartmann and Keagbine also move past Attleberger atop the career list for games started, each with 187. . . among the many Linfield partisans in attendance was college President Dr. Thomas Hellie. . . the Wildcats surpassed the team record for games played in one season of 53 set in 2007. . . with her 87th hit, Lepp set the Linfield single-season hits record held by former All-American Stephanie Rice (2005-08), who was also in attendance. . . the Wildcats are leading the tournament with a 1.45 ERA and .402 batting average. . . Prestianni is hitting a tournament best .643 and Lepp leads with four stolen bases. . . Harvey has posted a 0.64 ERA in 11 innings of action. . . Linfield ran its NCAA-record home runs total to 102.