The Statesmen softball team came back from the brink of elimination to finish off a sweep of league titles as it won the Midwest Collegiate Conference Tournament Sunday.
Top-seeded William Penn (36-18) opened the day as the only remaining undefeated team in the field, but fell in the first contest 4-3 to #2 Grand View to force an ‘if necessary’ game. The team fortunately rebounded to win 10-8 in that ‘winner-take-all’ second matchup.
The Statesmen advance to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round from May 12-14 at a site to be announced. It is the program’s fourth trip to nationals and second in the last three years (all since 2005).
Grand View, which reached the championship series with an incredible 13-11 elimination game win over St. Ambrose, used the momentum from that triumph to pick up the win in the opening contest.
The Vikings struck first with one run in the top of the second, but WPU answered right back in the bottom half. Jorden Steele (Jr., Tacoma, Wash., Physical Education) recorded a one-out double and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Sonia Ray (Sr., San Diego, Calif., Physical Education). The junior was originally called out on the play, but the umpires reversed the call as it was ruled the GVU catcher illegally blocked home plate.
Three visitor runs were posted in the next two innings and the 4-1 margin held up into the bottom of the fifth. Malloree Grove (Sr., Runnells, Iowa, Physical Education) then started the rally with a double and was brought around on a single by sister Brittanee Grove (Jr., Runnells, Iowa, Elementary Education). The navy and gold, who left seven on base in the setback, still trailed 4-2 entering the final inning. Brittanee had one final blow to deliver, however, by clearing the center field fence with a solo home run.
Unfortunately, WPU could not find another score in a game in which both sides had eight hits. Brittanee Grove finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs, while Jessica Christensen (So., Marysville, Wash., Sociology) was 2-for-4.
Jennifer Whitehead (Sr., Oskaloosa, Iowa, Biology) got out of several jams, but still gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits. The senior had four strikeouts with one walk.
GVU’s momentum continued to grow and was at an all-time high in the early parts of the second matchup as the Vikings took advantage of a WPU error to score three runs in the third. Nearly running on empty emotionally and psychologically, the Statesmen got a huge shot in the arm in the top of the fourth when Bri Zerley (Jr., Monroe, Iowa, Biology) hit a solo home run. Steele also crossed home plate on a single by Ashlee Dennis (Jr., Loveland Colo., Biology).
The Vikings responded with one run, but the navy and gold came back to take their first lead of the day at 5-4 with a three-run fifth frame. The inning was a display of pure power as Sydney Edwards (Jr., Galesburg, Ill., Psychology & Biology) led off with a solo home run and Brittanee Grove and Zerley followed her with solo shots of their own. Grove now leads the squad with 16 home runs, while Zerley has nine and Edwards has seven.
GVU knotted things up one more time with one run in the bottom half, but five tallies in the sixth put William Penn on top for good. A total of nine batters came to the plate in the inning with Steele providing the biggest base knocks–a two-run double. Zerley also had a run-scoring double, while Malloree and Brittanee Grove drove in one run each on singles.
Whitehead could not completely stop the red-hot Vikings, but slowed them down enough. Grand View pulled to within three in the sixth with two runs and got one run closer in the seventh, but was denied its third win of the day.
“I am so proud of our team for staying true to themselves,” Head Coach Mike Christner said. “In the second game, they could have quit, but they did not and kept fighting.”
“It was a great atmosphere and the crowd was terrific which helped our team tremendously,” Christner added. “Thanks to everyone who showed up for some great softball!”
WPU outhit GVU 13-10 with Zerley being a perfect 4-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Brittanee Grove was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored, while Malloree Grove posted a 2-for-5 effort. Steele also drove in two runs as eight starters had at least one hit.
Whitehead, now 26-8, survived a tough showing. She permitted eight runs (five earned) on ten hits, while striking out one and walking five (two hit-by-pitches).
(release courtesy of statesmenathletics.com)