SALEM, Va. - Amanda Hall doesn't know what kind of pitch it was and doesn't remember getting around the bases, only that it went quickly and that her feet barely touched the ground.
Hall came up with perhaps the biggest hit of her career, and certainly in her one year at Pacific Lutheran, crushing a three-run homer over the fence in left field Saturday to lift the Lutes to a 5-3 win over the Linfield Wildcats in a winner's bracket game at the NCAA Division III Softball Championships at Moyer Complex.
The win was PLU's fifth in eight games this season against the defending Division III national champion Wildcats. The Lutes improve to 43-11 overall and move one step deeper in the national tournament. Now unbeaten in their two games here, they will face Montclair State (N.J.) at 5 p.m. Sunday for the right to advance to the national title game.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
"I am so proud of Amanda Hall," PLU head coach Erin Van Nostrand said. "She has struggled all season long with runners in scoring position driving them in, but since the regional tournament she has been lights out."
"It felt so good," Hall said in the post-game interview session. "I was looking for a pitch to drive...and when I saw that pitch, I knew it."
Hall's blast changed the complexion of a game that Linfield had, for lack of a better term, by the throat. PLU scored a run in the top of the first inning when Montessa Califano led off with a single, advanced to second on a passed ball, and then scored on a single by Stacey Hagensen. After that, it was all Linfield.
The Wildcats tied the game in the bottom of the first inning, taking advantage of a leadoff error by the Lutes when Staci Doucette singled sharply through the right side to make the score 1-1.
Linfield, which has seen plenty of Lutes starting pitcher and second team All-American Hagensen throughout the senior's outstanding PLU career, loaded the bases in the bottom of the second before Hagensen escaped by striking out Linfield All-American Emilee Lepp to end the threat.
Doucette, a four-time first team All-American and Linfield's all-time home run record holder, belted the 72nd of her amazing career to lead off the third inning, putting Linfield on top 2-1.
The Wildcats kept the pressure on Hagensen and, if not for a third out diving catch in short right field by second baseman Glenelle Nitta in the fourth, they would have added a run that inning. They finally added their third run in the fifth inning. Doucette singled sharply through the left side of the infield, and Karleigh Prestianni beat out what was intended as a sacrifice bunt. Those base runners moved up a base on Katy Brosig's sacrifice, and Doucette made it 3-1 on a ground out by Ashley Garcia.
Meanwhile, Linfield pitcher Karina Paavola, a third team All-American, was mowing down the Lutes. She retired 13 consecutive PLU batters from the second inning into the first out of the sixth inning. And that's when the Lutes rallied to win the game.
With one out, Nitta was hit by a pitch for the third time in the tournament, but she stayed on first after Hagensen flied out. Kaaren Hatlen, PLU's first team All-America designated player, fouled off five pitches before working an 11-pitch walk off of Paavola, bringing Hall to the plate.
"Kaaren getting on base, finding a way to get on base, gives Amanda a chance to hit," Van Nostrand said.
Hall, the junior transfer out of Kennewick by way of Columbia Basin College, took a 1-1 pitch over the fence. With her teammates pouring out of the dugout to welcome her at the plate, Hall nearly sprinted around the bases, touching the plate and giving her team a 4-3 lead.
"She was handling us," Hall said of Paavola, "but we were making solid contact. We needed that one moment to break out." Hall provided that moment.
Entering the top of the seventh, the Lutes still clung to that narrow one-run lead, at least until freshman pinch hitter Kylee Oshiro ripped a double to the fence in right centerfield, scoring Haley Harshaw, who had reached on a one-out single.
In the bottom of the seventh, Doucette led off and promptly collected her fourth hit in as many at bats, but she was forced out at second on Prestianni's ground ball. Brosig followed with a single through the left side, bringing home run threat and potential winning run Garcia to the plate. PLU caught a huge break when the return throw from catcher Lowery to Hagensen rolled away. Prestianni attempted to take third, but shortstop Lindsey Matsunaga picked up the ball and easily threw out the Linfield runner at third. Garcia then grounded out to Matsunaga to end the game.
Pacific Lutheran managed just six hits against Paavola, who suffered only her third loss against 23 victories. None of the PLU hitters had more than one base hit.
Doucette showed her talent with four hits including a homer, two runs scored and two runs batted in. Prestianni had three hits and Grace Middlestadt added two in the leadoff spot.
Hagensen, now 26-5 this season, allowed three runs, two earned, on 12 hits. She struck out two and walked none.
- PLU -