SALISBURY, Md. – The No. 4 Salisbury University softball team is one step closer to the ultimate prize – a national championship – as the Sea Gulls topped Virginia Wesleyan College 3-2 in the Salisbury, Maryland Regional at the SU Softball Field on Saturday afternoon, sending Salisbury to next weekend's Super Regional.
"We're certainly elated that we were able to come out on top in this very tough regional; the format, for one, and facing two really good teams and three outstanding pitchers," Head Coach Margie Knight said. "We're happy, we get some extra rest before we get to the super regional. What a treat for me, as a coach, to be able to go back to the super regional for the second year in that format, I owe it to these young women and I'm very happy."
It marks the second year that Division III has gone with the three- and four-team regional format and the Sea Gulls have gone a combined 6-0 in regional games over the past two seasons.
After the Sea Gulls went down in order in the top of the first, playing as the visiting team, the Marlins struck in the bottom of the inning when Courtney Bogan drew a leadoff walk and stole second. She advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored when Blake Henderson banged a double off the left-field fence for the 1-0 lead.
Despite putting the ball in play in the early innings, Salisbury could not get things going against Virginia Wesleyan pitcher Mary Shipp.
Freshman LeAnne Collins ripped a single through the left side to lead off the top of the third, and stole second on the next pitch. A ground out moved Collins to third base, but she was stranded when Shipp got a fly out to end the inning.
The Marlins maintained the 1-0 lead, with Shipp allowing just two base runners in the first four innings, but Salisbury starter Rachel Johnson would match her until the Sea Gulls broke through offensively in the fifth.
Junior Molly Simpson, one of the Salisbury players named to All-Tournament Team, opened the fifth with a single up the middle and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Knight went to the bench and called on Annie Pietanza to pinch hit. The freshman ripped a 1-and-1 pitch to right center field. The line drive was enough for Simpson to score from second, tying the game.
"If you could see Annie hit in practice…" Knight said. "Annie's got some power, she's got a wonderful swing and the thing she has now is she's got a season's worth of experience and confidence and she is just all out crushing the ball in practice."
Johnson worked a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, one of 11 for her on the weekend among her 21 innings pitched, to put her offense back at the plate quickly, and they rewarded her with the lead.
Junior Kim Dorsey, who was 6-for-11 in the tournament, and also named to the All-Tournament Team, opened the sixth inning with an infield single. Dorsey hit a chopper up the middle, fielded by shortstop Kiersten Richardson, who threw to first, but Dorsey just beat the throw for the base hit.
Classmate Katie Sebbane laid down a bunt, where the Marlins tried to make the play at second on Dorsey. The throw was off the mark, and both runners were safe. Paige Knussman's ground ball up the middle would eliminate Sebbane at second, but put Salisbury runners at the corners. Knussman swiped second base before junior Annah Brittingham came up with the biggest hit of the weekend. Brittingham fell into a 1-and-2 hole, but turned on the next pitch, sending a sharp line drive just over the glove of third baseman Kayle Dost for a double. The blast allowed both runs to score and gave the Gulls the 3-1 lead.
"I was just thinking about getting people home and getting RBIs and getting runs for Rachel," Brittingham said. "I had two strikes on me and all we do in practice is two-strike approach. I've practiced it all the time, and all I was thinking about was just getting a hit."
The Marlins got a run back in the bottom of the sixth to cut the lead to 3-2, but Johnson would retire the side in order in the seventh to finish off the game.
Johnson worked all 21 innings in the circle for the Sea Gulls, striking out 27 while surrendering just eight hits and two walks. She posted a 0.67 earned-run average and was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player.
"We've played in a lot of tight games, and I think those are the games that make you better," Johnson said. "In these games you really need to focus on the little things. We've been in tough, pressure situations a lot, and I think that's helped us."
Despite some of the toughest pitching in the nation, the Sea Gulls had four players bat .375 or better, led by Dorsey's .545 average. Senior Angela Malgieri went 3-for-7 (.429) and was also named to the All-Tournament Team.
The regional victory sends the Sea Gulls through to the NCAA Super Regional next Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16. Salisbury will take on the team that advances out the Newport News, Virginia Regional, being hosted this weekend by Christopher Newport University. The Newport News Regional will be completed on Sunday, May 10, to determine the matchup in the best-of-three super regional.