In early April, the Anderson University softball team was scuffling along at 1-3 in league play and thinking positive thoughts about remaining in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title race.
On Friday, the Ravens (31-16) will be one of just eight teams still alive in the NCAA Div. III national championship race.
That’s the difference some hot bats, clutch pitching, and cool attitudes will make for a ballclub.
“Our big goal was to win conference,” leadoff hitter and Highland graduate Katie Lee said. “So when we got conference, it was like, ‘Hey, let’s have fun. Let’s be cool, calm and collected.’ And it got us all the way through.”
Anderson made history just a little more than a week ago when it became the first team ever to win the HCAC postseason tournament in three consecutive years.
Turns out the Ravens were just getting started.
Lee drove in the first run early Monday afternoon in a 5-1 victory against Allegheny in the regional final at Trine University. The win was AU’s fifth in an elimination game in three days, and it earned the team a trip to the Div. III World Series for the first time.
Senior Devin Moorman, the 2012 HCAC pitcher of the year, surrendered four hits and struck out seven over five innings to earn the victory in the circle. Freshman Sami Frazier, the 2013 HCAC pitcher of the year, allowed just one hit and struck out five in the final two innings to get the save.
Amy Wuestefeld, the HCAC MVP, had two hits — including an inside-the-park home run to put the Ravens up 3-0 in the third inning — and added two RBIs and two runs scored to lead the offense.
Anderson also got RBIs from Lee and regional MVP Yardley Collett of Shenandoah, as well as doubles by Natalie Moorhouse, Megan Ream, and Katy Ogden.
And Samantha Steele, the designated player who never hit the ball out of the infield all weekend, picked up two of her nine hits in the championship contest. Her overall effort — and tremendous speed — was enough to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.
“We’re all peaking at the right time so it’s awesome,” Moorman said. “It really helps with the confidence going into the biggest games of my life.”
It’s going to be tough to beat the games the Ravens just played.
They opened the tournament last Thursday with an upset victory against top-seeded Trine, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, but lost a day later against Aurora in the second round.
That set up a mad dash to the championship that included all those elimination-game victories.
It began quietly enough with a 9-6 victory against Thomas More to stay alive on Saturday morning. In the late afternoon, however, the Ravens made plenty of noise with a 10-6 win in a rematch against Trine (38-4) that ended the hosts’ season.
“We knew going into those games that they were going to be very tough games, and Trine’s always a great game between us,” Collett said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re here or there. So that (sweep) did prepare us, but we know that this next step is going to be even tougher.”
On Sunday morning, Anderson faced a rematch against Aurora.
Senior Lauren Smith kept the Ravens’ alive with a storybook finish. With two outs, the bases loaded and a full count at the plate, Smith singled home the winning run in a 4-3 victory.
[Photo: Graduating seniors on the softball team received their diplomas from AU President Dr. James L. Edwards on Monday. The team was in Angola, Ind., for the NCAA regional tournament during commencement Saturday.]
“Bottom of the seventh, bases loaded, full count, two outs, what a better scenario for a game of softball?” AU head coach Tony Holloway said. “Clutch hit. Then we come back and have to force an ‘if’ game, and our bats just exploded yesterday.”
Because the Ravens advanced out of the losers’ bracket, they had to defeat Allegheny twice to win the title.
AU scored nine runs in the final two innings and blasted its way to a 16-4 victory Sunday afternoon. But the win wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
It was close early, and the Ravens got the benefit of the bounce when a ball that seemed destined to be an RBI hit instead ricocheted off Smith and to first base for an inning-ending out.
“I think if you would have told us you’re going to get to the championship game of the regional and put 16 runs on the board, I’d say you bumped your head,” Holloway said.
On Monday morning, AU sprinted to a 3-0 lead against Allegheny and never looked back.
Holloway said he was never more calm at any point this season than he was entering regional play. And his players said that relaxed attitude is what allowed them to win game after game with the season on the line.
Now they’ll head to Eau Claire, Wis., for the World Series, where their first opponent will be 18th-ranked Luther (32-9) at 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
The Ravens don’t know much about the opposition, but they know teams don’t advance this far by accident. And they know they have plenty of softball left to play.
“I think we’re already ready to get back out there,” Collett said. “Well, we need a couple days’ rest, I think. But we’re ready to get up to Wisconsin and play some more ball. We’re not done yet.”
— George Bremer is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of about 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.