Montclair State Box Score
SALEM, Va. – Clearing all but the final hurdle necessary in order to claim a second consecutive NCAA Division III championship, the Linfield Wildcats battled through the losers bracket before finally falling to Northwest Conference rival Pacific Lutheran 3-0 in the title game Monday at Moyer Sports Complex. Earlier Monday, Linfield blanked Montclair State 2-0 to advance to the tournament final.
Riding the backs of five outstanding seniors, the Wildcats (46-7) enjoyed a watershed season in reaching the title game for a third straight year.
PACIFIC LUTHERAN 3, LINFIELD 0
All-America pitcher Stacey Hagensen completed her unbeaten run through the NCAA playoffs by handcuffing the Wildcats to three hits and no walks.
Linfield, which led the NCAA Finals in batting average and stolen bases, made good contact on Hagensen’s pitches, but most often, the ball sailed right into the gloves of the PLU fielders.
Hagensen, Kaaren Hatlen and Amanda Hall each drove in runs for PLU (45-11), which captured its first NCAA title and third overall, including two NAIA crowns in 1988 and 1992.
Linfield’s Karina Paavola (Sr., Kelso, Wash.), who was commanding throughout the postseason, struggled to keep the Lutes off the bases. She gave up six hits and a walk while registering just one strikeout.
The Wildcats put a runner at third base in the second inning but couldn’t capitalize. Jaydee Baxter doubled with two outs in the sixth, but Hagensen got Lepp to strike out swinging.
LINFIELD 2, MONTCLAIR STATE 0
All-American Emilee Lepp provided the clutch hit to put Linfield over the top and past MSU star pitcher Alex Hill.
The game was a scoreless stalemate until the sixth, when Lepp’s timely hit combined with a MSU fielding error to produce two runs. Grace Middelstadt (Jr., Battle Ground, Wash.) singled with a lofting shot to lead off the inning, then stole second base. Lepp came to the plate and drilled a pitch to right field, where Stephanie Szeliga attempted to scoop the ball on a low hop. As the ball skipped out of her glove as Lepp rounded first base, the senior All-American put her legs into fifth gear, rounding the bases and just eluding the tag the plate.
Linfield outhit Montclair 7-4.
Both teams put runners at third base in the early going. Middelstadt stood at third ready to score but Hill struck out Lepp looking for the third out. In the Montclair third, Jamie Paulino was 60 feet from scoring, but Hill flied out into the glove of center fielder Jaydee Baxter.
Again in the fifth, the Wildcats spotted runners at first and third, but Hailey Watson fouled out to end the inning. Following Lepp’s heroics, the Red Hawks used a hit and an error to place runners at second and third, but Katie Muglia tapped a grounder to Ashley Garcia (Sr., Beaveton, Ore.) for the third out.
Lauren Harvey held Montclair State to just four hits, fanning four and walking one. She improved to 20-2 for the season. She set the Red Hawks down in order in the seventh, vaulting the Wildcats into the championship game.
Montclair State (44-9) got two hits from leadoff hitter Shannon Mozek. Middestadt had a pair of singles and stole one base. Karleigh Prestianni went 2-for-3 for the Wildcats.
‘CAT SCRATCH: Linfield appeared in its fourth national championship game. . . the ‘Cats battled through the losers bracket to reach the title game for the third straight season. . . in six tournament games, Prestianni hit .611 while leading the team with a .833 slugging percentage. . . Middelstadt hit .333 with three stolen bases. . . Doucette has hit at least 20 home runs each of the past three seasons on her way to the NCAA career record of 73. . . Hill, who pitched 12 innings a day earlier against PLU, entered Monday’s game with a ERA of 0.89 and 332 strikeouts . . . she had allowed only six home runs all season. . . Linfield's 2-0 win over Montclair State was its 21st shutout of the season, setting a club record. . . six of Linfield's seven defeats this spring came at the hands of PLU.
SO LONG SENIORS: Linfield graduates perhaps is finest senior class as Lepp, Doucette, Harvey, Baxter and Jordan Mixsell will receive their bachelor's degrees at the end of the month. Combined, the quintent accounted for four NWC championships, three regional titles, one national crown and a four-year record of 174-22. Lepp and Doucette own nearly every offensive record, while Harvey finishes second all-time in career victories.
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team from Linfield were Doucette, Lepp, Prestianni, Harvey.
Doubles in final at-bat
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