East Texas Baptist definitely proved it was a team that was not giving up. With its third come-from-behind victory in four games at the national championship in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, ETBU captured the school's first national title with a 5-4 victory in the Division III championship game. The Tigers took advantage of a few late inning Linfield miscues, clawing their way back from a 2-0 Linfield lead that was established in the first inning.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh down 4-3, it looked as if the championship might be determined by the next day if-necessary game. East Texas Baptist had loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth but scored just one run to bring it to 4-3. Brooke Martin led off the ETBU seventh with a single to left center, and a sacrifice bunt by Rebecca Young moved her into scoring position. Alicia Wright reached first on an error at short, and Martin advanced to third. A single by Meghan Fisher tied the game at four, followed by a groundout which put runners at second and third with two outs.â€¨â€¨
Senior shortstop Stacy Havner hit what looked to be a routine ground ball to second base which would send the game to extra innings. However, Wildcat second baseman Alex Hartmann could not handle a strange hop, and the ball bounced toward center field, scoring the deciding run. â€¨
Linfield took the first inning lead on a two-run shot by first baseman and All-American Staci Doucette, her school record 20th home run of the season. The home run was also the team's 77th of the season, setting a new NCAA record. ETBU's starting pitcher Wright worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second to keep the Tigers close. Wright would end up throwing four innings total, giving up just the two earned runs.â€¨â€¨
"We had our chances early I thought, to go up by four or five runs," said Linfield head coach Jackson Vaughan. "We didn't take advantage, and that concerned me a bit because East Texas Baptist is such a scrappy team."â€¨â€¨
East Texas Baptist scored a run in the bottom of the fourth after Porsha Harrison led off the inning by reaching first base on an error. A sacrifice bunt by Martin moved her to second, and she would score on a Young double that was inches from clearing the center field fence.
Linfield would score two more in the top of the fifth after an inning-extending error at short on a grounder by Doucette with a runner on second. Another Linfield All-American, third baseman Karleigh Prestianni, singled up the middle to drive in the two runs and give Linfield a 4-1 lead.â€¨â€¨
After scoring another run in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single by Lauryn McCurry, ETBU loaded the bases. A pair of strikeouts by first starting pitcher Lauren Harvey and then relief pitcher Claire Velaski ended the inning without further damage. The Tigers would again load the bases in the sixth with nobody out. An error by Doucette allowed ETBU to pull within one, but Velaski would then force three straight groundouts to preserve the lead.
Senior Ayrika Henderson earned the win in relief for East Texas Baptist after allowing no runs and just one hit in two innings of work against a powerful Linfield lineup.
The game marked the third comeback victory for ETBU; in all, 15 of the Tigers' 23 runs in the tournament were scored in the fifth, sixth or seventh innings. ETBU closed its championship season by winning eight straight games in regional and national championship play, and the Tigers either trailed or were tied in the last two innings in six of those.â€¨
"Something we've had to do all year is fight," ETBU head coach Janae Shirley said. "Our divisional play is very tough, so we've had to stay in games and not get down on ourselves. They've had a lot of practice with it, but they've done a great job with it too."â€¨
Division III National Championship All-Tournament Team
Ayrika Henderson - Pitcher - East Texas Baptist Universityâ€¨
Claire Velaski - Pitcher - Linfield Collegeâ€¨
Emilee Lepp - Catcher - Linfield Collegeâ€¨
Staci Doucette - First Base - Linfield Collegeâ€¨
Rebecca Young - Second Base - East Texas Baptist Universityâ€¨
Emily Keagbine - Shortstop - Linfield Collegeâ€¨
Meghan Fisher - Third Base - East Texas Baptist Universityâ€¨
Priscilla Alicea - Outfield - Eastern Connecticut Stateâ€¨
Ashley Sullivan - Outfield - Eastern Connecticut Stateâ€¨
Ashley Mani - Outfield - Christopher Newportâ€¨
Alicia Wright - Designated Player/Utility - East Texas Baptist Universityâ€¨
Erin Crist - At-large - Luther Collegeâ€¨
Stacy Havner - At-large - East Texas Baptist Universityâ€¨
Molly Rathbun - At-large - Eastern Connecticut Stateâ€¨
Haley Buchanan - At-large - DePauw University