Bloomington Regional Website
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – One swing of the bat proved the difference.
A three-run home run by Linfield slugger Emilee Lepp supplied all the scoring that was needed to carry the defending NCAA Division III champion Wildcats to a 3-0 shutout of top-seeded and tournament host Illinois Wesleyan Saturday afternoon at the Bloomington Regional at IWU Field.
Linfield (41-5) advances to Sunday’s noon PDT championship round needing to win just once to secure a berth in next week’s NCAA Finals in Salem, Va.
Illinois Wesleyan (38-7) drops into an elimination game Sunday against Carthage (Wis.).
Lepp delivered her 13th home run of the season and first in six games, well shy of the NCAA-record 29 she hit a year ago. But the significance of the game-deciding homer was nonetheless awe-inspiring, putting the Wildcats in the driver’s seat at the eight-team Bloomington Regional.
The game was a classic pitchers’ duel, pitting IWU ace Molly McCready against Linfield’s two-headed monster of Lauren Harvey and Karina Paavola.
The matchup of the tournament's top two seeds remained hitless until the fateful third inning. Haylie Watson and Grace Middelstadt (Sr., Battle Ground, Wash.) each drew walks off McCready. Then with two outs, Lepp smashed the ball beyond the right-center field fence, touching off a frenzied celebration at home plate.
Harvey (17-4) held the Titans to three inconsequential hits through four innings, fanning three and walking one. Paavola earned her first save of the season, coming in to strike out the side in the sixth inning and finishing with five Ks against the 11 batters she faced.
McCready (17-4) was masterful in a losing effort, holding Linfield to a paltry two hits. The righthander came into the game with 189 strikeouts on the season before adding seven more, but conceded seven walks to the opportunistic Wildcats. Linfield threatened to break the game open in the sixth when Jaydee Baxter singled and Lepp and Doucette reached base on consecutive walks from McCready. But Karleigh Prestianni popped out to right field, ending the inning.
‘CAT SCRATCH: By defeating Anderson on Friday, Linfield achieved its third consecutive 40-win season and fourth in program history . . .running their regional winning streak to 11 games, the Wildcats have held regional opponents scoreless for 40 consecutive innings. . . Doucette, the Division III leader in home runs, has gone nine games without a homer. . . Linfield notched its 20th shutout victory of the season, one shy of the school record of 21 set last season.
THIS DAY IN LINFIELD SOFTBALL HISTORY: The second-ranked Wildcats knocked off two Top 10 teams on the same day at the 2007 NCAA Regionals in Pineville, La., surprising No. 8 Mississippi College 4-3 in nine innings, then bouncing No. 4 Louisiana College 8-6 in dramatic fashion in a game that was delayed first by lightning, then by fireworks. The victories propelled Linfield to the regional title and, later, the national championship.
IN OTHER BLOOMINGTON REGIONAL GAMES: Carthage eliminated Wisconsin-Eau Claire 4-1 and Anderson ended St. Norbert’s season with a 1-0 shutout. . . Carthage remained alive by defeating Anderson 6-1 in Saturday's late game.