TYLER, Texas – The No. 4 Salisbury University softball team opened play in its eighth NCAA Division III National Championship appearance on Thursday, playing the program's first-ever game in the state of Texas, coming away with a narrow 1-0 win against No. 13 University of St. Thomas (Minn.).
The win was the first in program history against St. Thomas, as the Tommies had claimed the only two meetings, during the 2005 NCAA championship.
Pitching was the focus of the game, as Salisbury starter Rachel Johnson and St. Thomas pitchers Kendra Bowe and Breezy Bannon combined to allow just 10 hits in the game. In the end, it was the Sea Gulls' patience at the plate that kept Salisbury undefeated in their last eight games.
Salisbury (41-3) had chances in each of the first two innings, loading the bases in each, but failing to come away with a run. In the first, senior Harley Hill opened with a single up the middle and advanced to second on classmate Angelia McDowell's bunt. McDowell was safe on the play, giving the Sea Gulls two runners on.
After two pop ups, sophomore Katie Sebbane singled to load the bases, but Bowe would get a flyout to end the threat.
A leadoff double by junior Angela Malgieri started the second, and Salisbury loaded the bases on a walk and bunt single, but the inning would end that way as Bowe prompted a line out from McDowell and a fly out by sophomore Kim Dorsey to end the inning.
While Salisbury was putting six runners on base in the first two innings, Johnson was keeping the Tommies at bay. A one-out walk in the first was the only St. Thomas base runner until the fourth when the Tommies came up with their first hit off Johnson, a leadoff single by Bianca Peterson. A bunt single would put two on, but Johnson would come back with one of her 10 strikeouts in the game, and a pair of ground ball outs to keep the game scoreless.
Salisbury had missed out on two chances set up, in part, by walks from Bowe. The Sea Gulls would not go without a run in the fourth. Johnson reached on a one-out single and Hill ripped her third hit of the day to give Salisbury runners on first and second. They advanced on a sacrifice bunt and Bowe intentionally walked Dorsey to get to sophomore designated player Paige Knussman. Knussman did not need to lift the bat off her shoulder, taking four balls for the free pass and an RBI, forcing Johnson home as the game-winning run. The walk was one of five Bowe surrendered in her 4 1/3 innings of work.
Johnson would allow just two runners on base in the closing three innings, with neither reaching scoring position - including one which was gunned down by junior catcher Rebecca Hoey trying to steal second base - to close out the win, her 26th of the year.
The Sea Gulls will now play the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which defeated the University of Rochester in Thursday's first game, 8-7.
Salisbury and Wisconsin-Whitewater have never met in softball. Friday's game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., eastern time.