COLUMBUS, Ga. – 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 Semifinals at the South Commons Softball Complex on Tuesday. The Eagles will play Thursday at 2 p.m. PST 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. She struck out seven as Concordia recorded their 35th shutout of the year.
Caitrin Debaun had two hits and reached base four times with two walks. Groom collected Concordia's other hit in the first to drive in Debaun. The Eagles drew four walks and one batter was hit.
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.
Debaun led off the game with a walk and stole second and third. With two outs, Groom singled into shallow center to plate what would be the games' only run. Cotta struck out the first two in the bottom half and forced a fly to right. The Eagles stranded a leadoff walk in the second and Cotta worked two groundouts and a pop out in the second half. Debaun again started the third with a walk, was sacrificed to second, went to third on a groundout, but a strikeout ended the inning. Cotta worked around a one-out walk with two K's in the bottom half.
Bryana Simpson was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fourth, stole second, but was left there after a walk and pop out. The Badgers got their one hit in the bottom of the frame, with one-out double off the left field wall. Cotta immediately struck out two straight swinging to escape. Debaun singled through the right side to start the fifth, was sacrificed to second, but was left there after two K's. Cotta went 1-2-3 in the bottom half. Concordia went quietly in the sixth and Cotta walked the leadoff batter. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner, and after a pop out, Cotta and coach Rosenthal elected to intentionally walk a batter. Cotta forced a groundout in the hole at shortstop that Jenna Jorgenson fired to first to escape. Debaun singled to second in the seventh, but was left at first. Cotta struck out the first batter in the bottom half, forced a pop out, and Hannah Howell took a short-hop at third and fired to first to send the Eagles to their first NAIA National Championship in program history.
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 and will chase the school's seventh. The Eagles had never made it out of NAIA Pool Play prior to 2013.
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.
(Bracket | Live Video) The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has announced the official seeds and bracket for the 2013 Softball National Championship final site. The 10-team event takes place from May 24 – 30 at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus, Ga. The facility was home to the 1998 Summer Olympic Games.
The National Championship is a double-elimination tournament with the winner being crowned May 30. There will up to 19 games played during a seven-day span on one championship stadium field. This format is a first in the 33-year history of the event. Most recently from 2005-12, the championship format included pool play and pool play champions advanced to double-elimination action. For ticket information, click here.
NeuLion, the NAIA's official video-streaming company of 18 select NAIA national championship events, will be broadcasting all 19 games. Single day packages can be purchased for $9.95, while an all-Championship pass is available for $29.95.
For more information on the national championship, click here.