Roanoke Wins Regional Softball Title
Maroons to Face Tufts in Opening Finals Contest
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. --- The Maroons were
always set to make a return trip home to Salem, but Monday's trek
back over I-64 and I-81 will be unlike any other bus ride.
For the second time in as many days, Roanoke College defeated host Christopher Newport University in the regional round of 2012 NCAA Division III Softball Tournament. Monday's 3-1 triumph wrapped up the regional championship for the Maroons and propelled them into the final round of eight teams that will compete for a national title in Virginia's Championship City. The event, which follows a double-elimination format, begins on Friday, May 18 and continues thru Tuesday, May 22 (if necessary) at the James I. Moyer Sports Complex in Salem.
Roanoke (33-9) will be making its first appearance in the final series since 2001 and is the first ODAC team to make the season-ending event since Lynchburg College in 2008. The Maroons open with Tufts University (40-5) at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. The Jumbos advanced from the Willimantic, Conn. Regional hosted by Eastern Connecticut State University.
Six other teams from around the country are preparing to join Roanoke and Tufts in Salem. Playing in Friday's first game (11:00 a.m.) will be defending national champion, Linfield College (42-5), against Ohio Northern University (31-12). At 1:30 p.m., Pacific Lutheran University (41-11) and Luther College (40-7) square off, followed by SUNY-Plattsburgh (35-9) and Montclair State University (42-7) at 4:00 p.m.
Click for the NCAA Division III Softball Interactive Bracket.
After Monday's win, the Maroons enter finals play on an 11-game winning streak that includes a sweep of their four opponents in the ODAC Tournament and a repeat effort at CNU.
Roanoke started eyeing Salem in the first inning on Monday morning, as the Maroons opened up an early 1-0 lead on the Captains. After Alea Bier drew a one-out walk, Stephanie Clark followed two batters later with a triple down the right field line to score Bier from first. That broke a two-game trend of allowing the opponent to jump on the scoreboard first.
Christopher Newport seemed set for a big innning in the third when Kelley Foate and Kristina McLaughlin singled to the left side. Kelly Higbie, who would go on to be named tournament Most Outstanding Player (she also earned that distinction for her play at the ODAC Tournament), induced a ground out and struck out a batter, but her attempt to get away without any damage was thwarted when Jennifer Falin singled through the left side to score Foate.
Roanoke was quick to respond. Leona Rainey led off the bottom of the third with a double to left-center. She came around to score on Bier's single back up the middle, but the Maroons' first baseman was cut down at second base by CNU catcher Chelsea Mitchell when Bier tried to advance on the throw home.
Both pitchers, Higbie for Roanoke and Whitney Haller for CNU, went into lockdown thereafter as neither team recorded another hit until the bottom of the sixth. That's when Roanoke tacked on an insurance run when Felice Lowery drove in Hollee Warlitner with a sacrifice fly to right.
Higbie took care of the first two batters in the top of the seventh, but Foate doubled to left-center to raise the collective blood pressure of the RC faithful and bring the tying run to the plate. Higbie completed her MOP effort by inducing a ground out to third to end the game and seal Roanoke's advancement to the national finals.
As she did for much of the season, Higbie threw all 28 innings on the way to four tournament wins. In Monday's effort, she scattered six hits and gave up just one run while fanning four to improve to 28-8 on the season. For CNU, Haller went six innings and also fanned four, but Roanoke turned five hits into three runs (two earned) against the USA South Pitcher of the Year.
At the dish, Clark led Roanoke with two hits and a run batted in. She went 9-for-13 over the regional weekend. Rainey, Bier and Warlitner each collected a hit apiece as the top four in the RC order went 5-for-11.
CNU was led by two hits from Foate. McLaughlin, Sabrina Hill, Falin and Amber Arevalo each had a knock.
Joining Higbie on the 2012 NCAA Newport News Regional All-Tournament Team are Lowery, Clark and Warlitner.
For more information on the NCAA Division III Softball Tournament, visit the NCAA at www.ncaa.com. For more on ODAC Softball and Roanoke Softball, go to www.odaconline.com and http://maroons.roanoke.edu.