St. Thomas head coach John Tschida won his 400th career game as the Tommies moved one win away from a second straight national title with a 4-1 win over Chapman Sunday afternoon at the NCAA Division III Softball Championship in Raleigh, N.C.
Tschida moves to 400-79 in his carrer, an .835 winning percentage in 11 seasons, as the Tommies (40-6) advance to Monday's championship game. A win Monday can make St. Thomas the first back-to-back national champion since Eastern Connecticut State won the title in 1985 and 1986.
"It's almost impossible to repeat," St. Thomas head coach John Tschida said. "I think Division III has a lot of parity because you don't have the scholarships to get the top players. The players you get you have to develop. The coaches here are great at developing players. That's why so many of them have great traditions, because they do develop those players. You also have to have a lot of luck to win. We're hoping for a lot of luck."
The Tommies jumped on the offensive early, plating three runs in the top of the first. Nikki Conway, who is 7-for-11 in the tournament with two home runs, five RBIs and three runs scored, continued her torrid pace as she led off the game with a double, her first of two hits on the afternoon. Michelle Wong followed with a single, and the throw to second base allowed Conway to score the game's first run.
"Chapman is a great team," Tschida said. "They've been here before, so we knew it would be a great battle. Our girls were excited to play them. It was a good opportunity for them.
"Jumping on them was big," Tschida said. "Anytime you get in these games and jump up early it helps the kids to relax a little. It makes the other team have to fight. Chapman wasn't on their heels too much because they are a good, aggressive team."
Wong scored as Kristi Huegel reached on an error to the shortstop and and advanced to second on an errant throw. Huegel scored as Carrie Embree, who went 3-for-3 at the plate, delivered a single.
"We started off strong," Embree said. "Nikki had a great hit to start the game and everyone followed that up. Everyone started to step up, and that helps when everyone is able to do that."
Chapman starter Marissa Becerra was unable to get through the first, as Jennifer Winford came in to end the first-inning threat. Becerra took the loss for the Panthers as she allowed three runs, one earned, on three hits in two-thirds of an inning.
"They came out swinging the bats. We got Jennifer warm as quickly as possible," Chapman head coach Janet Lloyd said. "We left eight on base, and if we would have scored at least half of those, we would have won the game. You can't leave that many runners on against St. Thomas -- they're too good of a team."
Winford gave Chapman the opportunity to rally in the contest as she went the remaining six and a third and allowed just one run on six hits with three strikeouts.
St. Thomas starter Janet Nagle fell to much the same fate as her Chapman counterpart, as she was chased after a third of an inning.
"Janet struggled finding the zone," Tschida said. "It looked like she didn't have the energy she had in previous games."
After getting Keely Starr to pop out to begin the game, Nagle was chased after she allowed back-to-back walks to Katherine Searing and Jill Jeranko and an RBI single to Amy Sanders, who continued her torrid pace at the plate with a 1-for-3 afternoon.
"This is the tournament I've been able to pick the ball up well," Sanders said. "Unfortuantely in a game like that, one run off one of my hits isn't going to do it. We have to get everyone else hitting the ball well at the same time. We have to come out tomorrow and get some clutch hits, something we couldn't do today."
Tschida went to freshman Maria Bye, and she Sandra Burns to strikeout and Catherine Hall to fly out to end the inning.
"I wasn't hesitant to bring Maria in. Maria has been throwing hard and has been throwing well," Tschida said.
"All I knew was I had to throw the ball where coach called them," Bye said. "He just told Nikki where to call them, and I tried my best to throw to those spots. I just did my job and let the defense work behind me."
Bye went on to pick up the victory as she limited the Panthers to just five hits over the final six and two-thirds with six strikeouts.
The Tommies added an additional run in the fourth as Embree singled, stole second and scored on Mandy Evans' double.
Chapman had opportunities to cut into the St. Thomas lead, but the Panthers stranded eight on base, including three in the first, two in the second and two in the fourth.
The Panthers will meet the winner of Sunday evening's elmination game between Ithaca and Salisbury Monday at noon for the right to face St. Thomas in Monday's 2:30 p.m. championship game.