SALEM, Va. --- The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire picked up the school's second overall NCAA championship today by defeating fellow Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WIAC) member the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 4-3, in nine innings in the 2008 NCAA Division III Softball Championship title game in Salem, Va.
“What a ballgame," said Leslie Huntington, head coach of UW-Eau Claire. "I couldn’t be more proud of our kids. These players have been resilient; they’ve hung together all year. I told them today that in the last two weeks especially they have had one heartbeat and they kept that one heartbeat today and won UW Eau-Claire a national championship! This is amazing!”
The Blugolds (36-11) entered the tournament on Friday as the third-seeded team and made their way through the winners bracket by downing #6 Ithaca 8-0 in six innings and then beating #7 Muskingum 5-1 on Saturday. UW-Eau Claire came back on Monday and defeated top-ranked Louisiana College, 2-1, to reach the title game.
In the bottom of the ninth inning against UW-Whitewater, senior Jill Janke hit a walk-off solo homerun over the right field fence for her sixth round-tripper of the season and most memorable knock of her career. The Blugolds had not yet hit a homer in the the NCAA tournament despite hitting 37 long shots throughout the regular season. Janke's home run was her only hit on the afternoon.
“I walked up to the plate and I felt really good... I felt really confident," said Janke on her game-winning homerun. "I had this feeling as soon as we ran in from getting that third out, that this was the inning, this was when we were going to end it. I swung and hit and thought 'Just get out of here!'".
In the seventh frame, the Blugolds were down 3-1 with two outs and no runners on base when they found their offensive rhythm. Katie Stalker changed the game when she got on base by sending a single to the pitcher. Casey Leisgang then singled to left field, putting two runners on base. Tamara Zeman knocked a single to left field and Stalker was able to tap home plate, making the score 3-2. Then Michelle Butkus reached first on fielder's choice back up the middle. On the play, UW-Whitewater committed a fielding error which brought Leisgang home for the tying run that sent the game into extra innings.
The other UW-Eau Claire score came early in the game during the third frame when Zeman slapped a single to first base that plated Stalker.
UW-Whitewater (39-11) posted the first score of the game in the second inning when Lauren Rankins singled up the middle and Amanda LeBeau scored. The Warhawks recorded two more runs in the fifth frame when Suzanne Gersich knocked her ball beyond the left field fence. Gersich's long-ball marked her 13th on the season and UW-Whitewater's 68th, setting a school and WIAC record as well as placing second all-time in NCAA Division III history. The Warhawks' power total is topped only by the 72 dingers posted by the University of Saint Thomas in 2006.
“This really set the stage for us," said Gersich on the success of her team this year. "We will be nationally recognized as being a great team.”
Jenny Ross picked up the win, upping her mark to 27-2 and extending the Blugolds' longest winning streak of the season to eight games, all of which Ross has been in the circle. Ross pitched all nine innings and gave up three runs and eight hits while fanning six batters. In the Blugolds four games during the championship series, Ross allowed only twenty hits and five runs in 29 innings of play. She posted a 1.21 ERA and whiffed 16 batters.
Jessica Stang pitched the entire game for the Warhawks and permitted four runs on ten hits while fanning six batters. Stang finishes her freshman season with a record of 16-6. Throughout the championship series, Stang pitched 42.1 innings and gave up 34 hits and 12 runs while posting a 0.99 ERA. Stang racked up 40 strikeouts.
“I can’t even explain how proud I am of them, said Warhawk mentor, Brenda Volk. "Not only have they worked hard but they are the nicest bunch of kids I have ever worked with. They have stayed focused and worked hard; they wanted this more than anything.”
Five Blugolds and five Warhawks were named to the all-tournament team. Listed below you can find those ten players and the rest of the 2008 NCAA Division III Softball Championship All-Tournament Team.
2008 NCAA Division III Softball Championship All-Tournament Team
Catcher: Kari Hoying, Muskingum
First Base: Caitlin Ryan, Ithaca
Second Base: Casey Leisgang, UW-Eau Claire
Third Base: Michelle Butkus, UW-Eau Claire
Shortstop: Ashleigh Clement, Louisiana
Outfield: Lauren Cruz, UW-Whitewater
Outfield: Amy Gahl, UW-Whitewater
Outfield: Suzanne Gersich, UW-Whitewater
Pitcher: Jenny Ross, UW-Eau Claire
Pitcher: Jessica Stang, UW-Whitewater
Designated/Utility Player: McCaslin Carson, Louisiana
At-Large: Katie Stalker, UW-Eau Claire
At-Large: Amanda LeBeau, UW-Whitewater
At-Large: Emily Ringen, Cortland State
At-Large: Jill Janke, UW-Eau Claire