LYNCHBURG, VA – Six teams have trekked through the regional round of the inaugural National Invitational Softball Championship. Cal Poly, Illinois State, Kennesaw State, Weber State, Lamar and host Liberty all punched their tickets to the championship round with an impressive run through the regionals.
The first games for the Championship Round are slated for Sunday, May 21, with the finals set for Wednesday, May 24, in the double-elimination format. ESPN3 will carry both the semifinal games as well as the championships with Thad Anderson calling the action alongside Amanda Freed.
All six teams entering the championship round of the inaugural NISC arrive from different conferences. The Big Sky, Big West, Big South, Conference USA Missouri Valley and the Southland all have representation.
Ohio and Liberty matched up in the longest game of the NISC so far. The Bobcats and the Lady Flames battled for more than three hours before Ohio slipped across a 12th-inning game-winning run.
In the Lamar Regional, the championship round featured a pair of walk-offs with UL Monroe walking off to force the “if” game, followed by the Cardinals returning the favor to advance to the NISC Championships.
About the Kennesaw State Owls
Since transitioning to the Division I level, Kennesaw State’s bid to the 2017 Postseason NISC is its first postseason appearance in program history. The Owls completed a season in which they compiled the third most wins (36) in program history, since becoming a Division I program.
The 2017 Kennesaw State squad saw a record seven players earn Atlantic Sun honors for head coach Pete D’Amour. Courtney Sutter, Alley Cutting, Taylor Denton, Olivia Tamewitz, Hannah Thomason, Noelle Winkles and Katey Lynch were each selected for their respective performances throughout the season. Before taking over the Kennesaw State program this year, D’Amour spent the previous 10 years with the Missouri Tigers. As an assistant, D’Amour aided the program to three Women’s College World Series appearances, eight NCAA Super Regionals and 10 NCAA Regionals.
About the Weber State Wildcats
Weber State was forced to match up with Boise State three times throughout regional play in order to earn its way into the championship round. In fact, Weber State faced nothing but Mountain West opponents, eventually grabbing the final victory over the Broncos, 8-0, solidifying their spot in Lynchburg. With their first win over Boise State in regional round, the Wildcats set a program record for most home wins in a single-season with 15.
Sara Hingsberger, Takesha Saltern and Kirtlyn Bohling each were selected to NFCA All-Region teams, and all three are also under consideration for All-American teams. It’s the first time in Weber State history that three players received the honor in the same season.
Offensively, the Wildcats are led by Takesha Saltern. As just a freshman, Saltern led WSU in batting average (.456), on base percentage (.509), runs scored (53), hits (89), triples (9), total bases (110) and stolen bases (24). The Utah Native was also top 10 in each of those categories at the conference level as well. As a team, Weber State led the Big Sky Conference in batting, backed by Saltern, Landi Hawker, Mckinie Brinkerhoff, Sara Hingsberger and Mackenzi Corta who all averaged north of .300 throughout the season.
About the Liberty Lady Flames
As one of six hosts in the regional round, Liberty fought through UNC Wilmington and then Ohio three times before grabbing the regional title. The Lady Flames will host the championship round of the first-year event. In the first game of the regional final, Liberty and Ohio played the longest game so far in the NISC, battling through 12 innings with the Bobcats before Ohio scored the game-winning run.
With a 16-5 Big South Conference record, Liberty snagged the regular season title for the fourth time. The Lady Flames battled into the finals of the conference championship before falling to the Longwood Lancers, 4-2. The 2017 NISC bid represents the third postseason appearance for the Lady Flames. Liberty had not played past the regular season since earning an NCAA Regional bid in 2011.
In the circle, nobody in the conference was better that Julia Dimartino. With 180 innings pitched, Dimartino’s 1.95 ERA is not only the best mark in the Big South, but also the only one under 2.00. Head coach Dot Richardson’s pitching stable was nearly dominant throughout 2017. Kenzie Friesen, Chase Cassady and Julia Dimartino all ranked in the top 10 in runs allowed, hits allowed and walks allowed.
About the Cal Poly Mustangs
Cal Poly glided through the regional round of the NISC out in Stockton California, winning all three games by a margin of 11. The Mustangs were the only team in the regionals not to surrender a single run.
Sierra Hyland did most the heavy lifting for the Mustangs in 2017. The senior was just the third pitcher in Big West history to reach 900 innings pitched. Hyland is sixth in the country in ERA, 13th in shutouts and 16th in strikeouts. She set program records in wins, appearances, starts, shutouts, saves, and now owns the Big West record with 934 strikeouts and counting. If Hyland wasn’t enough to deal with, the Mustangs hide Lindsey Chalmers in the wings. The junior right-hander boasts a 1.68 ERA and is allowing just 4.80 hits per game.
Cal Poly not only faced one of the toughest schedules in the Big West Conference, but one of the toughest in the nation. Twenty-two of the Mustang’s 53 games were against teams from the top 75 in the RPI and seven of those opponents were against teams in the top 25 or receiving votes.
About the Lamar Cardinals
Lamar was another team to earn their first-ever postseason bid and cruised to the finals of their regional, before matching up with Louisiana-Monroe for the second time in three days. The Warhawks needed a walk-off to force the “if” game on Thursday, but the Cardinals returned the favor in the winner-take-all game to win, 3-2.
Ashley McDowell is piecing together one of the most prolific careers in Lamar history. McDowell currently holds the records for hits (196), RBI (107), home runs (21), doubles (41), total bases (314), at bats (658), fielding chances (1,171) and putouts (1,088).
The Cardinal’s pitching tandem of Ciara Luna and Laura Napoli have been outstanding in 2017. Both rank in the top three in program history for career strikeouts. Luna holds the record-setting mark with 240 and Napoli is close behind with 216.
Lamar is also a team that will take a free base at all costs. As a team, the Cardinals are second in the conference in walks with 203 and first in hit-by-pitches with 54.
About the Illinois State Redbirds
Illinois State needed a double feature to knock off Michigan State to advance out of the regional. A 6-0 domination of Sparty locked the Redbirds to their NISC Championship position.
Impressively, Illinois State boasts one of the best batting averages in the Missouri Valley Conference with a mark of .308. That number grows to .370 when considering conference play only. Missouri Valley Player of the Year Jordan de los Reyes is major factor in those numbers. She not only holds records for ISU career home runs and slugging percentage and single-season marks for RBI, total bases and slugging, the senior also broke the MVC record for career RBI with 189 and counting.
Back on February 17, the Redbirds took down then No. 17 Missouri by a score of 7-3. It was Illinois State’s first win over a ranked opponent sinch toppling Lafayette in 2013.
Earlier this season, head coach Melinda Fischer reached a career total of 1,000 wins on April 14. Fischer became just the 20th coach in the history of the NCAA to reach the 1,000 win mark.