By Chad Waller, NAIA Director of Communications and Sports Information
Pictures courtesy of www.NAIAPIctures.com
COLUMBUS, Ga. – (Box Score) No. 1 seed Concordia (Calif.) earns its first-ever championship final trip after a 1-0 triumph over No. 10 Spring Hill (Ala.) in the winner’s bracket at the 2013 NAIA Softball National Championship final site at the South Commons Softball Complex on Tuesday. The Eagles will play Thursday at 5 p.m. EDT and await the winner of the loser’s bracket championship, which takes place Wednesday night.
Tonight’s battle featured the NAIA’s two best strikeout pitchers – Katie Cotta of Concordia and Caroline Sagrera of Spring Hill. Sagrera entered the championship with the most Ks of any NAIA or NCAA pitcher with 462 in 324.0 innings. Cotta, with 320 whiffs in 163.0 innings, leads the NAIA in strikeouts per nine innings (17.7). With her effort tonight, Cotta earned her 17th shutout on the year and second-straight after an 8-0 blanking of No. 4 Oklahoma City on Monday.
The nation’s No. 1 ranked team drew the game’s first run in the top of the first inning. Caitrin DeBaun reached on a four-pitch walk. She stole second and third base, before crossing home on a single by Shainna Groom. That was all the offense in a game that lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes.
“I thought it was an outstanding pitcher’s duel,” said Concordia head coach Crystal Rosenthal. “Spring Hill is a great team. They are super hot right now swinging their bats. But, I’m really proud of Katie. She came out and really stuck to her spots. We played great defense and who knew the run in the first inning was going to be enough.”
Cotta finished the game with seven strikeouts to push her championship total to 29. She improved to 26-2 on the year by giving up the single hit, a double to Jade Bourgeois in the fourth inning. Bourgeois was stranded after Cotta picked up back-to-back strikeouts.
Overall, Spring Hill put four runners on base by virtue of one hit and three walks. The best scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the sixth inning. Sam Leach opened the frame with a walk. She was pushed over to second on a sacrifice bunt. But, she would not move as Cotta clamped down and got a pop out and ground out.
With 10 strikeouts tonight, Sagrera has compiled at least 10 Ks in three of four championship games. Overall, she now has a championship-leading 42 strikeouts in Columbus. She allowed just three hits and walked four. Despite the loss for Sagrera, her 10th this year against 38 wins, Rosenthal had praise for the freshman.
“The deal is she has got something you can’t teach – she’s got late break on the ball and command of four pitches. She has awesome composure for a freshman. She is going to be a player to watch out for the next three years.”
Lead-off hitter DeBaun led the Eagles with two hits and got on base all four times with two walks. She is now batting .556 in the championship (5-for-9).
Concordia remains as the only undefeated team with a 3-0 championship mark. The Eagles are looking to win the school’s first softball championship.
Spring Hill will have to win three more games for the school’s first national championship title. The Badgers will face the winner of No. 2 Lubbock Christian (Texas) and No. 6 Williams Baptist (Ark.) Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The championship is a 10-team, double-elimination event hosted by the Columbus Sports Council. This is the 33rd annual championship and takes place in the state of Georgia for the first time in NAIA softball history.
For more information on the national championship, click here.