Exactly one month ago to the day, the Seward County Lady Saints Softball Team was sitting in 4th place out of 5 in the Jayhawk West Conference with a 4-4 record. Two weeks after that they finished an 8-0 run to become champions of that Jayhawk West Conference. A week after that they won their 9th, 10th, and 11th straight games to become Region 6 Tournament Champions and advance to the NJCAA National Tournament. Two weeks after that clincher, the Lady Saints finished their season as the #7 team in all of the country after a 2-2 showing at the National Tournament in St. George, Utah.
Seward’s quest for a National Championship started Thursday where they opened the tournament with defending National Champions Wallace State-Hanceville. The 2nd seeded Lady Lions took a quick 1-0 lead on the 15th seeded Lady Saints with a one out double in the bottom half of the 1st inning. Seward shook off their early jitters and tied the game up in the next half inning as Brianna Baron doubled with one out off the center field fence and was driven in by a single by Shelby Casey to tie the game at 1. Neither team could muster any offense against each other’s pitching in the middle innings of the game and the game remained tied at 1 after 6 innings of play. In the 7th, Baron laced another one out double but was stranded on 3rd base as the third out was recorded to retire the side. In the bottom half of the inning Wallace State leadoff hitter Sallie Van Kirk led off with a single and stood at second base after Lady Saints starter Courtney Auger induced a pair of ground balls to record two outs. With two outs and the game tied at 1, Wallace 1st Baseman and All-American candidate Stephanie Needham blasted her 20th double of the season off the left field fence to score Van Kirk and give the Lady Lions a 2-1 win over the upset minded Lady Saints. The Lady Saints loss dropped them to the losers bracket in the tournament and forced them to play at 6:00 that same evening in an elimination game against the Motlow State Lady Bucks from Tennessee.
BOX SCORE
The nightcap of the Lady Saints double header was a must win for Coach Andrea Gustafson and company as a loss would eliminate them from the tournament and send them home on the first day of their first ever National Tournament. Seward took an early lead on the team from Lynchburg, Tennessee with RBI singles from Jill Rodgers and Shelby Casey in the bottom of the first. However, after a scoreless 2nd inning, Motlow State would tie the game via a 2 run home run from catcher Kayla Cole to knot the game at 2 a piece. The game wouldn’t stay tied for long as Katie Glenn singled to lead off the Seward half of the 3rd inning and promptly stole second to set up an RBI single from Brianna Baron to put the Lady Saints up 3-2. Motlow would threaten to take the lead for the first time in the 5th inning as 2nd Baseman Missy Roberts’ RBI single tied the game at 3 and a walk to Amy Buwalda following that would load the bases with two outs. In her 12th inning of work in just a couple of hours, Courtney Auger came up with possibly her biggest strikeout of the tournament, fanning Nicole Johnson with the sacks full to end the threat in the Lady Bucks half of the 5th. The renewed energy sparked an offensive attack from the Lady Saints in the bottom of the 5th as a 1 out double by Marisa Coats was followed by a 2 out home run by Baron to give Seward the lead at 5-3. Auger would allow just one base runner in her final two innings of work to eliminate the Lady Bucks and push the Lady Saints one game further in the tournament.
BOX SCORE
The win moved the Lady Saints past the first round of eliminations and into the nation’s top 12 after one day of play at the tournament. On Friday, they would match up with the Odessa Wranglers, the Region 5A champions from Texas who was also 1-1 in the tournament. The Wranglers put together back to back hits in the top of the 1st to score a run and take an early 1-0 lead. With their tournament lives on the line, the Lady Saints scrapped back in their half of the inning to score 2 runs with the big blow coming off of the bat of Jill Rodgers who lined a double over the center fielders head to score a pair of runs and take the lead 2-1. After the 1st inning of play it looked as if a barn burner was going to be on hand but that could be further from the truth as neither team could score in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th and a 2 out single by Odessa in the 5th tied the game at 2. Seward would leave Alicia Reyes and Katie Glenn on base in both the 5th and 7th innings and the fans at the Canyons Complex in St. George got to watch free softball as the game was deadlocked at 2 after the regulation 7 innings. Odessa threatened in both the 8th and 9th innings but Courtney Auger was able to divert the threat in the circle for Seward to keep the game tied at 2-2 after 9 innings of play. Both teams went in order in the 10th inning and left a runner on second in the 11th inning and the longest game of the tournament reached the 12th inning. Odessa coaxed a leadoff walk in the top half of the 12th but wasn’t able to move the runner any further than first base and the zero gave the Lady Saints a chance to win the game in the bottom of the 12th frame. After a quick strikeout and groundout to second, the game looked like it would see another inning as Lady Saints speedster Katie Glenn stepped up to the plate. Although Glenn was 3 for 4 in the game, she had reached base thanks to her legs as none of her three hits traveled past the pitchers circle, so what happened next could not have been more unpredictable. In almost slow motion it seemed, Glenn took her slap approach to the first pitch she saw but instead of bunting the ball onto the ground, the little lefty swung and surprised the Wrangler defense by hitting the ball over the head of the drawn in right fielder. That is when the excitement started. Glenn rapidly raced around first and then second before the outfield was able to corral the ball now setting on the right center field fence. As the throw approached the cutoff man just beyond the infield dirt Glenn approached third base and Coach Andrea Gustafson wasn’t putting the brakes on the fleet footed Canuck then as she waved her around third to set up an unforgettable play at the plate. As the catcher waited for the ball Glenn didn’t lose any steam as she dove into home plate head first touching the plate just as the Odessa catcher received the ball and put the tag on her hip to reach home safely and win the game for the Lady Saints. The moment for those that were there will be as memorable as Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world” or Michael Jordan’s free-throw line jumper over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 playoffs. Possibly the single greatest moment in Seward County Lady Saints history sent them on to the final 8 in the National Tournament and a date with Florida Community College-Jacksonville.
BOX SCORE
With not so much as a minute to catch their breath, the Lady Saints were set to take on the Lady Stars from Florida CC-Jacksonville in an elite 8 elimination game directly following their emotional win over Odessa just minutes before. Seward scored the first run of the game in the 2nd inning as Shelby Casey doubled with one out, advanced to third on a wild pitch and was driven in by a sacrifice fly to left field off the bat of Brittany Kent. The Lady Saints would jump out to a 4-0 lead in the 3rd inning as Katie Glenn wasn’t done staring for the weekend and singled to drive in Jamie Gilbert from second base and Casey then drove her and Marisa Coats in with a two out 2 RBI single. Lady Saints starting pitcher Erin Roufosse gave up her first run of the game in the 4th after a 2 out error allowed FCC-Jax to climb to within 3 at 4-1. Roufosse settled in and set down the Lady Stars in order in the 5th and 6th and the Lady Saints looked primed to collect another victory in the tournament as they led by that 4-1 score going into the last inning of play. With two outs and the bases loaded, FCC pitcher Chrystal Chesser singled up the middle to score a pair of runs and an errant throw from center field allowed runners to move up to 2nd and 3rd with those two outs. Still with the 4-3 lead, the Lady Saints needed just an out to advance to the final six of the tournament. But, as a two out ground ball took a bad hop, both Lady Stars base runners came around to score and the Lady Saints now found themselves down for the first time in the game at 5-4. With the wind out of their sails, the Lady Saints went in order in the bottom of the 7th therefore ending their 2009 season but not before they reached the 7th place plateau in the nation with their showing in the tournament.
BOX SCORE
The Lady Saints finish the season with a 40-16 overall record and a 2-2 record in the NJCAA National Championship Tournament, good for that 7th place finish. With 40 wins, a Jayhawk West Conference Championship, a Region VI Tournament Championship, and their 7th place finish at the school’s first National Tournament, this year’s Lady Saints team will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest in school history. Seward will return seven full time starters from this National Tournament team and will strive to achieve even higher in the 2010 campaign. For a photo gallery of the Lady Saints 2009 National Tournament run CLICK HERE.