SALEM, Va. – The Trine University softball team dispatched the tenth best team in the country to secure their first ever appearance in the NCAA Division III Softball Championship Series. The team would defeat Berry College, who was ranked tenth in the latest NFCA national poll and seeded fifth among the final eight teams, by the score of 5-0.
For the first time in Salem it was a new pitcher starting in the circle for the Thunder, junior Anna Koeppl (Perrysburg, Ohio / Perrysburg) who started the game by holding the Vikings off the base paths in the first inning. In the second she allowed a hit and hit a batter, but was able to work out of the jam to keep the game scoreless.
Trine found some offense of their own in the bottom of the second. Senior Ashley Swartout (Westfield, Ind. / Westfield) led off the inning with a single. Emily Wheaton (Kalamazoo, Mich. / Hackett Catholic) would enter the game as a pinch runner and promptly stole second base. A double from freshman Emma Beyer (Rochester, Mich. / Stoney Creek) put runners on second and third with just one out on the board.
Senior Mercede Daugherty (Watervliet, Mich. / Watervliet) then attempted the squeeze bunt. It worked bringing home Wheaton from third. A bad throw by the Vikings allowed Daugherty to reach first safely and Beyer was able to scamper home.
Koeppl would secure the 2-0 lead in the third, but ran into some trouble again in the top of the fourth. This time she faced runners on second and third with only one out and it forced a change from the Trine coaching staff. Sophomore Lauren Clausen (Elk Grove, Ill. / Elk Grove) entered the game and forced two popups to escape the inning and preserve the lead.
Clausen stymied the Vikings again in the top of the fifth brining the Thunder back to the plate, having gone run less in their last two trips to the plate. Junior Anna Gill (Ashville, Ohio / Teays Valley) led off the inning with a single before following it up by stealing second. It looked like that would be the extent of the threat with the next two batters recording outs for the team, but senior Taylor Murdock (Lapel, Ind. / Lapel) reached on an error leaving runners on the corners for junior Amanda Prather (Indianapolis, Ind. / Roncalli). Prather doubled down on her heroics from yesterday sending another ball over the left field fence for the three-run homer giving the team a 5-0 lead.
That lead remained in the top of the seventh, bringing Berry to the plate with just three outs left before elimination. Clausen gave up a hit to start the inning, but freshman Ainsley Phillips (Yorktown, Ind. / Yorktown) would throw the runner out at second on a steal attempt. The next batter drew a walk, but Clausen followed it up with a popup to second and then a groundout to secure the victory for the team.
It is the first time in program history that Trine has reached the final series. They are guaranteed to finish better than their last trip to the national championship when they finished tied for third in the country, the current best finish in program history.
They will face a tough task to win their first championship facing off with the top-ranked team in the country, and the top-seeded team in Salem, from Christopher Newport University. The Captains are 45-1 so far this season, with their lone loss coming in late March. They secured their spot in the final series earlier today with an extra-inning victory over last year's tournament runner up Texas Lutheran University.
The two teams will face each other for the opening game of the best of three championship series tomorrow, Monday, May 30 at 1:30 p.m. The second game is scheduled for Tuesday, May 31 at 11 a.m. with a third if-necessary game to follow.