THIS WEEKEND: The Pacific Lutheran University softball team will take on the Luther College Norse at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Friday in the first round of the NCAA Division III Softball Championship at Moyer Stadium in Salem, Virginia. After four wins this past weekend at the regional tournament in Tyler, Texas, Pacific Lutheran enters the Division III Softball Championship with a 41-11 record on the season. The program's 41 wins are the most all-time in school history. Having won 17 of their last 18 games, the Lutes will look to keep their timely hitting and strong pitching going for one last weekend. Friday afternoon, the Lutes begin their final push for a national title against Luther College.
REST OF THE BRACKET: The tournament opens at 11 a.m. (EDT) Friday with a game between defending national champion Linfield (42-5) and Ohio Northern (31-12), followed by the PLU versus Luther contest. There is a possibility, then, that the Lutes would play Northwest Conference rival Linfield in a second round winner's bracket game at 4 p.m. (EDT) Saturday, or in a loser-out contest at 11 a.m. (EDT) Saturday. If that happens, it would mark the eighth time that PLU and Linfield would have faced each other this season. But back to the bracket. On the bottom half of the eight-team bracket, Plattsburgh State (35-9) from New York plays Montclair State (42-7) from New Jersey at 4 p.m. (EDT) Friday, followed by the final opening-round game of the tournament between local team Roanoke (33-9) and Tufts (40-5) from Massachusetts.
SCOUTING THE NORSE: The Luther College Norse, making their third consecutive appearance at the Division III Softball Championship, come into Friday's contest with PLU after winning the Pella Regional Tournament. At 40-7 on the season, Luther is ranked No. 6 in the most recent National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 poll. Sophomore pitcher Becca Girvan has carried the Norse in 2012, racking up a 29-5 record with a stingy 1.02 ERA. Continuity has been the key for the Norse this season as the program's lineup features nine batters that have started in at least 46 games. Senior Kelsey Kittleson and junior Shari Huber head the offense for Luther. Huber is hitting .405 on the season and leads the team in hits (62) and runs (52). Kittleson has provided the pop for the Norse in her final campaign with Luther. Posting a .379 batting average, Kittleson has hit a team-high 10 homeruns and driven in 49 runs. Senior Lauran Snyder is also putting together a nice season as well in her final hurrah. The infielder is batting .383 and is second on the team in hits with 54 and RBI with 36. Her 17 doubles on the season lead all Norse.
FIRST TIME IN A DECADE: PLU will appear in the NCAA Division III Softball Championship for the first time since 2002 when the Lutes finished fourth in the tournament held in Eau Claire, Wis. That is Pacific Lutheran's only appearance at the event, though the Lutes advanced to regional tournament play each year from 1999 through 2003.
THE HOST SITE: The NCAA Division III Softball Championships are being held at the Moyer Complex in Salem, Va., for the second straight year and fourth time in the last six years. Besides Salem, the tournament was held in Eau Clair, Wis., in 2010 and in Montclair, N.J., in 2009. The City of Salem and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) host the softball championships, as they have the Division III football title game since 1993.
LINFIELD OUT TO DEFEND TITLE: Linfield defeated Christopher Newport (Virginia) last year and is back to defending its Division III national title. Linfield also won the 2007 national crown and is the only Northwest Conference school to win a NCAA Division III softball title. The 2012 Wildcats received an at-large bid into the 61-team national tournament field after losing the Northwest Conference tournament championship game to PLU, 3-0, in McMinnville, Ore., on April 22. Linfield swept its four games at last weekend's Bloomington (Ill.) Regional hosted by Illinois Wesleyan to reach this year's Division III World Series.
PACIFIC LUTHERAN'S ROAD TO THE WORLD SERIES:
SHUTTING DOWN THE OPPOSITION: Two-time Northwest Conference Pitcher of the Year Stacey Hagensen was lights out last weekend in the Tyler Regional. Pitching all 27 innings for the Lutes, Hagensen allowed only two earned runs while striking out 21 batters and walking just two. Picking up all four wins, the senior improved her record to 24-5 on the season and lowered her earned run average to 1.02. PLU's four regional tournament opponents combined to hit just .202 against Hagensen.
LUTE NOTES: Montessa Califano and Amanda Hall led the Lutes at the dish in the regional tournament…Califano finished the weekend collecting six hits in 15 at bats, good for a .400 average, and she scored three runs…Hall hit .416 (5-for-12) with two doubles and five RBI…joining those two and Most Valuable Player Stacey Hagensen on the all-tournament team was Kaaren Hatlen, who hit .364 (4-for-11) with a double, home run and four RBI...Glenelle Nitta did not make the all-tournament team but hit .333 (4-for-12) with four runs batted in...PLU committed just one error and turned two double plays in its four games in Tyler, Texas.
PLU 4, TEXAS-TYLER 0: Tournament Most Valuable Player Stacey Hagensen threw a four-hit shutout as Pacific Lutheran defeated Texas-Tyler, 4-0, to win the Tyler Regional. Hagensen was in command throughout, limiting the Patriots to three hits through the first six innings. She was aided by double plays turned by the defense in the third and fifth innings. Catcher Katie Lowery also threw out a base stealer in the second inning. The Lutes took a 3-0 lead in the third inning, combining three hits and two crucial Texas-Tyler errors. Haley Harshaw led off the inning with a single and moved to second when Amanda Going grounded out. Montessa Califano hit a grounder to Endsley at third base, and she had Harshaw trapped off of second but threw the ball into center field, allowing Harshaw to score. When the throw from the outfield sailed to the backstop, Califano ended up at third base. Glenelle Nitta put down a suicide squeeze bunt and Califano slid in under the tag for the second run of the inning. After Hagensen lined out, Kaaren Hatlen hit a single and Amanda Hall followed with a double off the top of the fence in left centerfield, making it 3-0. The Lutes added their final run in the fourth when Lindsey Matsunaga led off with a single, moved to second on Harshaw's sacrifice bunt, to third on a wild pitch, and then scored on a ground out by Goings. It wasn't until the seventh that the Patriots made it interesting, but by that time they trailed 4-0. With one out Ashley Endsley hit a double, her third hit of the game, and then Hagensen hit a couple of batters to load the bases with two outs. Hagensen finished the the Patriots, and the tournament, by catching Carli Wheeler looking with a drop ball on the outside corner. The celebration started after that.
PLU 5, CLAREMONT-MUDD-SCRIPPS 1: 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. 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. 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. 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.
PLU 2, REDLANDS 1 (8 Innings): Until the top of the seventh inning, pitchers Stacey Hagensen and Kayla Uphold from Redlands kept their opponents off of the scoreboard. Redlands managed six hits through the first six innings and twice got a runner as far as second base before Hagensen shut the door. Uphold was even sharper, limiting the Lutes to just three hits through six frames. PLU's best chance came in the fourth inning when pinch runner Spencer Sherwin was left stranded at third base. The Bulldogs finally broke through with a run on five singles in the top of the seventh inning, with Molly Duran scoring on Sarah Beeman's bouncer over the head of PLU third baseman Haley Harshaw. Redlands could have scored more had not Katie Lowery thrown out a runner stealing, in addition to Hagensen coaxing an inning-ending ground out that left the bases loaded. Facing that 1-0 deficit, Pacific Lutheran rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh and then won it with an unearned run in the eighth. Lowery got the tying rally going with one out, singling sharply though the left side of the infield. Pinch hitter Ami Gran fell behind 0-2 before drawing a walk, moving Lowery to second base. When Glenelle Nitta hit a bouncer back to Uphold, she thought about trying to get Lowery at third, changed her mind, and then threw low to first baseman Rikki Scates. Lowery, running hard on the play, raced home and slid around the tag of catcher Kai Masutani, tying the score. The game went into extra innings, however, when Harshaw's line drive to shortstop was turned into an inning-ending double play at third base. After Hagensen retired the Bulldogs in order in the top of the eighth, Montessa Califano started the winning rally by reaching on a ground ball to shortstop that was ruled an error. Hagensen followed with a single to center, but she was forced at second on Kaaren Hatlen's grounder, putting runners at the corners with two outs. Amanda Hall ended the game, driving Uphold's pitch off the fence in left centerfield and scoring Califano with the winning run.
PLU 8, HUNTINGDON 0: Stacey Hagensen dominated the Hawks on Friday. Mixing several pitches with great effectiveness, she retired the first 10 batters she faced until Jenna Rimensnyder bounced a single through the left side of the infield with one out in the top of the fourth. That, as it turned out, was Huntingdon's only base runner in the game. Kaaren Hatlen provided the big bat early in the game. After Amanda Goings led off the bottom of the first with a walk and eventually reached third base with two outs, Hatlen ripped a double over Rimensnyder's head in centerfield to put the Lutes on top, 1-0. In the third inning with Hagensen on first and two out, Hatlen lifted a high fly to left-centerfield that the wind helped carry over the fence. Whether wind-aided or not, Hatlen's 10th homer of the season gave PLU a 3-0 advantage. While Hagensen continued to mow down the Hawks, Huntingdon pitcher Bree Giordana kept her team in the game into the bottom of the fifth inning. That, however, is when the Lutes scored five times on five hits to end the contest.
HAGENSEN, HATLEN AMONG FIVE LUTES ON ALL-REGION TEAM: Stacey Hagensen and Kaaren Hatlen have earned first team All-West Region honors as announced by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Hagensen was named to the first team for the second consecutive season, this time as a pitcher. She was selected as a utility player following the 2011 season. Hatlen a second team choice as a first baseman in 2011, earned first team recognition as a designated player. Pacific Lutheran had three players named to the all-region third team: catcher Katie Lowery, shortstop Lindsey Matsunaga and outfielder Montessa Califano.
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