By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The Anderson University softball team survived five elimination games to win the NCAA regional last week in Angola.
It took the nation’s top-ranked team to finally end the Ravens’ remarkable run.
Salisbury scored a 2-0 victory Saturday in Eau Claire, Wis., knocking AU (31-18) out of the NCAA Div. III Softball Championships in the program’s debut trip to the national finals.
“We had a few opportunities out there today,” Ravens coach Tony Holloway said in a postgame news conference. “We knew we had to probably put up a couple of runs out here. I thought we got everything we needed on the defense and pitching side. We had a couple of opportunities where we needed to get key hits, and (we were) just a little bit short today.”
Salisbury starter Rachel Johnson retired the first 11 AU hitters before Katy Ogden broke up the perfect game with a two-out single to center field in the fourth.
The Ravens’ only other hit was a single by Lys Hess in the seventh inning, but AU took advantage of three Seagulls errors and had four runners in scoring position against reliever Kathryn Larson in the final two innings.
“Really, really happy to get a ‘W,’ that’s for sure,” Salisbury coach Margie Knight said. “Anderson really fought right to the end and had some runners on in the last couple of innings. But we, with a couple miscues, still came out on top.”
Those miscues started with one out in the sixth and Megan Ream on first base after a leadoff walk.
Former Highland star Katie Lee grounded back to Larson, but an errant throw at first put runners on second and third with the heart of the Ravens’ lineup coming up. But Amy Wuestefeld — the 2013 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference MVP — struck out swinging, and Ogden popped out to second base to end the threat.
AU again applied pressure in the seventh after former Shenandoah star Yardley Collett reached on a lead-off throwing error and Hess followed with a one-out single. A wild pitch put runners on second and third, but Natalie Moorhouse struck out and Ream grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
Holloway was not surprised by the fight his team showed in the final frames.
“This team has been that way the entire season,” he said. “It seems like when our back’s to the wall is when you’ll see us rise up. Last weekend, we got down in the losers’ bracket and had to run off five wins. Today we were just a little short. We had a couple scoring opportunities early and just didn’t get it. But that doesn’t by any way take away from the season these ladies just had. Unbelievable season coming through the conference all the way through the regional and being here, it all speaks for itself.”
Second baseman Lauren Smith, whose two-out bases-loaded hit in the seventh inning allowed the Ravens to reach last week’s regional championship game, said she’ll remember the moments off the field even longer than the highlights on it.
“My team is my family,” she said. “So I’m gonna really miss those times. It wasn’t a job. It was just something that we went out and did and had fun. I’m gonna miss just going out and doing what I love.”
AU jumped on Luther in Friday’s opening round with an RBI single in the first inning. But on Saturday, it was the Seagulls (40-3) who struck first.
Catcher Michelle Gravdahl’s home run to left field with two outs in the bottom of the first inning provided the only run Salisbury would need. The Seagulls added another in the fifth on an RBI single by Hannah Mills.
“It was a great way to start us off,” Gravdahl said of her homer. “It helped to push people forward, and we got a little hyped from it. So it was a good start.”
AU starter Devin Moorman allowed just two runs and five hits over five innings before giving way to Smith in the sixth.
Moorman was the winning pitcher against Allegheny in last week’s regional final, and she said she is proud of the legacy her fellow seniors will leave behind.
The Ravens return 11 players next season, including HCAC pitcher of the year Sami Frazier.
“I think we have all learned so many lessons to get to the next level in anything and everything,” Moorman said. “I hope our seven seniors were able to put that impression on the underclassmen, and I hope that they get back here again and I can be one of those proud alums that are cheering them on just like we had for us. So I just hope to see them back here again.”
That, said Holloway, is the goal.
He was an assistant coach under his father, Larry, for 23 seasons and just finished his sixth season as head coach. Holloway said his dad built the foundation for this program, and it’s only as good as the players who buy into it.
“They’ve set the standards now,” Holloway said. “We want this to be the norm, and we’ve got a good nucleus returning. It’s remarkable for these kids who got here. It’s great for our university, and I’ve told them a thousand times, on my terms, I’m only as good as them. To be very honest with you, I’ve been very fortunate to have these ladies play for me. And it’s been a great honor.”