St. Thomas got three runs in each of the final three innings to down Salisbury 9-3 and complete its run to a second straight NCAA Division III national title.
The Tommies bacame the first back-to-back champions since Eastern Connecticut State won two-straight titles in 1985 and 1986. Head coach John Tschida's squad also continued the Midwest region's remarkable run of claiming six of the last nine national championships.
"You have to be lucky, good and work hard," Tschida said. "You never know if you're going to get in the playoffs because coming out of our region we have to face some top teams. I tell our players that winning the regional is like winning a world series -- now we have to go out and win another. I think it helps us relax a little more. To win two, there are a lot of coaches and players who go a whole lifetime trying to get to one. It's nice to have the seniors be able to win two of them."
St. Thomas jumped on top first with three runs in the fourth inning. Maria Bye started the frame off with a walk. One batter later, Mandy Evans singled to left to put Bye on second. Colleen Fitzpatrick singled back to Salisbury starter Lacey Lister to load the bases. Lister got Janet Nagle to strikeout, but Nikki Conway delivered another clutch hit as she delivered a bases-clearing triple to right field.
"We said we wanted to get on top early," Tschida said. "They played a few extra games. We thought they might be a little tired, and we wanted to jump on them early. They played a great game and really battled."
The Sea Gulls took advantage of some St. Thomas miscues to cut the lead to 3-2 in the top of the fifth.
"St. Thomas hit the ball really well. They are one of the best hitting teams I've ever seen. The home run Lacey missed, but the others they hit were very good pitches," Salisbury head coach Margie Knight said. "They did a nice job. I was pleased. We could have given in at 3-0, but we responded with two runs. We were able to manufacture some runs, but they just responded immediately. I couldn't have been happier the way we stormed back through the bottom half of the bracket."
Tee Dronenburg led off with a single. Following a Nichole Fuqua sacrifice bunt, Kareem Falcon walked and Lister struck out to bring up Kim Rementer with two away. Rementer lifted a short pop fly on the backside of the pitcher's mound. A diving attempt to make the grab was unsuccessful, and the throw to second base slipped into center field to bring in pinch runner Eryn Mathews and Falcon.
St. Thomas immediately answered as Kristie Huegel led off the home half of the fifth with a solo home run to left that swung the momentum back to the Tommies. Salisbury made the switch from Lister to Kristen Wells, but the Tommies' potent offensive attack continued. Colleen Fitzpatrick brought in another run with her single, and Carrie Embree scored another with her fielder's choice.
"We gave them those runs. We didn't want to beat ourselves," Huegel said. "We knew we had to answer back right away. She gave me a good pitch to hit, and I had a good cut at it."
Salisbury cut the St. Thomas lead in half with another run in the sixth as Fuqua singled to left and Serena Fleming scored on a misplayed ball.
The Tommies brought the game to its final deficit with three more runs in the sixth. Huegel capped her 2-for-3, two RBI day with a single that scored Conway,and the other two runs scored on a sacrifice fly by Embree and passed ball that plated Michelle Wong.
Together the trio of Conway, Wong and Huegel combined to go 5-for-10 in the game with four runs scored and five RBIs.
Janet Nagle picked up the win, going five and a third and allowing three runs, none earned, on four hits with four strikeouts. Bye held the Sea Gulls to a single hit over the final inning and a third to pick up the save, her second of the tournament.
"Maria came in and closed the door," Tschida said. "It seems all the way through the playoffs we'd get a big lead and then open the door for the opponent. It's nice having Maria to come in. She was more relaxed, and I think getting her in the other day was important because this game had a little more pressure. Janet struggling before helped us win this one."
Lister went the opening five frames and allowed six runs, five earned, on seven hits with three strikeouts. Wells threw the final inning and was roughed up for three runs, two earned, on three hits.
"I was fatigued, but I wasn't going to give up," Lister said. "I fed off the adrenaline. I knew I had to give it my all. I kept them off-balance for the first couple of innings, but after that they picked up and there wasn't much I could do with them."
C - Nikki Conway, St. Thomas
1B - Erin Ruest, Salisbury
2B - Kim Tackett, Muskingum
3B - Kim Sanders, Chapman
SS - Amy Gaudard, Alma
OF - Leigh Bonkowski, Ithaca
OF - Serena Fleming, Salisbury
OF - Anne Westerman, Alma
P - Janet Nagle, St. Thomas
P - Lacey Lister, Salisbury
DP - Maria Bye, St. Thomas
At-Large - Carrie Embree, St. Thomas
At-Large - Jennifer Winford, Chapman
At-Large - Jessica Stangarone, Ithaca
At-Large - Keely Starr, Chapman