SALEM, Virginia – The 2014 NCAA Division II Softball National Championship game was billed as a battle of two of the best offensive teams in the nation, but the two student-athletes in the circle had other plans as Monday’s contest turned into a pitcher’s duel before WT’s Brittany Gehle registered her first hit of the weekend on a three run blast to left field with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to give the #1 Lady Buffs the first National Championship in program history as they topped the #16 Blazers of Valdosta State, 3-2 at the Moyer Sports Complex in Salem, Virginia. WT ends its dream season at 60-7 while the Blazers end their campaign at 47-15.
The title marks just the fourth National Championship in West Texas A&M’s NCAA history as the Lady Buff Volleyball team captured titles in 1990, 1991 and 1997. It also marks the first softball national championship for the Lone Star Conference since the Belles of Angelo State claimed the crown back in 2004.
The opening inning saw the Lady Buffs register the game’s first base runner as Renee Erwin registered a full count walk with two outs in the top of the first inning but a popup ended the threat, WT’s Rita Hokianga continued her hot streak in the circle during the bottom half of the inning as the junior lefty forced a popup to right field followed by a pair of strikeouts to send the teams to the second inning tied at 0-0.
The top of the second inning saw Jessica Sipe register a leadoff walk on four straight pitches before the Blazers tallied the first out of the inning via the strikeout, Mallory Wyatt flew out to the foul line in shallow right field for the second out followed by VSU’s third strikeout of the game to end the top of the seventh with the teams tied at 0-0. The home half of the inning started off with Erwin making a running grap in the right center field gap for the first out followed by another flyout to right, Sipe ended the inning as she fielded a grounder at the hot corner and fired across the diamond to head to the third inning.
The next few innings continued to be a pitcher’s duel as both arms carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning as a Hannah Strickland infield single to Alyssa Lemos at shortstop ended Hokianga’s perfect game and no hitter as the Blazers put runners on the corners with two outs before the junior lefty registered her sixth strikeout of the game to end the threat. The top of the sixth inning saw Erwin break up VSU’s Brianna Hancock’s no-no with a single to left center with two outs before Erwin stole second to move into scoring position but a flyout to right followed as the teams headed to the bottom of the sixth tied at 0-0.
The bottom of the sixth inning saw the Blazers register the first extra-base hit of the game as Shelby Altman doubled to center field with two outs followed by a walk on a 3-1 Hokianga offering to put runners on first and second, the New Zealand native got out of the frame as she forced a popup to Sipe in the infield to send the teams to the seventh inning tied at 0-0.
Heading to the seventh inning, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” played throughout the Moyer Sports Complex as the large WT following sang along and cheered on the Lady Buffs, the top of the seventh inning saw Sipe show her senior leadership once again as the Phoenix native lined a stand-up double off of the right center field wall to leadoff the inning. Valdosta forced an infield popup for the first out followed by a popup in foul territory in front of the first base dugout before Taylor registered a walk to put runners on first and second with two outs, Brittany Gehle gave the Lady Buffs the 3-0 lead on a three run blast to left field on a 1-0 offering to head to the bottom of the seventh inning just three outs away from a title.
The Blazers wouldn’t go down without as fight as WT registered the first two outs of the frame as Valdosta State hit back-to-back solo homeruns to cut the lead to 3-2, Hokianga wouldn’t be denied as the junior left hander ran her game strikeout total to eight as VSU’s April Collins was called out looking to end the game and give WT the National Championship, 3-2. Hokianga moved to 29-3 on the season, giving up two runs on four hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in the complete game victory as she picked-up All-Tournament Team accolades while being named the Championship’s MVP.
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