TYLER, Texas - Pacific Lutheran advanced to the title game at the NCAA Division III Softball Championships Tyler Regional by defeating Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 5-1, on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the UT-Tyler Ballpark.
The Lutes (40-11), ranked No. 4 in the country and the No. 2 seed in the tournament, will face tournament host and No. 1 seed Texas-Tyler (39-8), which won two elimination games on Sunday. The tournament championship game is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. (CDT), and an "if necessary" game will immediately follow.
The championship game will be mark the third time that the teams have faced each other this season after the Lutes and Patriots, currently ranked No. 7 in the Division III Top 25 national poll, split a doubleheader in Tyler on March 29. PLU won the opener, 3-2 in eight innings, before UT-Tyler rolled to a 7-0 victory in the second game.
Senior Stacey Hagensen continued her outstanding pitching in this tournament and throughout the season, limiting the No. 17-ranked Athenas to just three hits while walking none and striking out five. The Athenas scored their only run in the bottom of the fifth when Amanda Banducci, who had two of her team's hits, belted her second homer of the season over the left field fence.
That run cut the CMS deficit in half after the Lutes had scored single tallies in the third and fourth innings, and PLU added three insurance runs on four hits in the top of the seventh to put the game away.
"I was really proud of our team today," head coach Erin Van Nostrand said. "We watched their pitcher throw yesterday against Tyler and she threw really well. We fought the whole way and found a way to do it."
The Lutes scored the game's first run in the third when, with one out, Haley Harshaw was hit by a pitch and Amanda Goings and Montessa Califano followed with infield singles. Glenelle Nitta hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Harshaw.
PLU made it 2-0 in the fourth without benefit of a hit. Kaaren Hatlen and Amanda Hall led off the frame by working CMS losing pitcher Hayley Schultz for walks. Katie Lowery bunted the runners up a base, and PLU head coach Erin Van Nostrand went right back to the bunt. Lindsey Matsunaga put down a perfect suicide squeeze to score pinch runner Spencer Sherwin.
After Banducci put some tension back into the game with her homer, the Lutes came up with some big hits in the top of the seventh.
With one out, Nitta hit a bullet through the middle for a single, and Hagensen followed by blistering a single off of CMS third baseman Michaela Ecklund. Hatlen drove in a run with a single to left on the first pitch thrown by relief pitcher Rebecca Gularte, and Amanda Hall followed by hitting a double to the fence in right centerfield, scoring Hagensen from second and Hatlen from first.
"We built this team to be able to do it all, to be able to score runs in a close game if we need to, to bunt, to run, to manufacture runs, and then obviously we have some kids in the middle of the lineup who can really hit. It was nice to see it all come together," Van Nostrand said.
After the three-run burst, it was a matter of Hagensen finishing things off in the bottom of the seventh inning for her 23rd win of the season against five losses.
"Our pitching coach (Greg Seeley) just tells us before every game to keep it on the black, keep it on the black, and it's what we focus on," Hagensen said. "It's easy to throw when you know you've got good defense behind you and especially when you have run support."
Claremont's Schultz saw her pitching record fall to 18-10 after she allowed four runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings of work.
Califano led PLU's nine-hit offense with three singles, and Hall added two hits and two RBI.
With its 40th victory of the season, this year's PLU team ties the 1990 squad, which was 40-8, for most wins in a season. The Lutes hope to surpass that record on Monday afternoon.
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