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May 17, 2011

 

Dragons cruising to World Series

Pound Piedmont 8-0 for regional title

SoftballBob Ellis/staff photographer
Briana Barca lifts Brooke Weidman during SUNY Cortland’s celebration after beating Piedmont College in the NCAA Regional title game Monday.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

The championship round of this NCAA Division III softball regional did not start well for SUNY Cortland first baseman Abby Martin.
Injuring her ankle during pre-game introductions was not the promising omen Martin or her Red Dragon teammates were looking for heading into Monday afternoon’s match-up with Piedmont College.
“I just twisted it up a little bit going out and giving each other high-fives during the line-ups for us,” explained Martin, who admitted afterwards that the ankle hurt “quite a bit.”
That embarrassing incident did not keep a gimpy Martin from coming through, however. The junior transfer delivered two key hits — including a bases-loaded double during a five-run outburst in the fourth inning — as Cortland secured the regional title with an 8-0 five-inning victory over the Lady Lions from Georgia.
The game was called after five innings under the tournament’s eight-run mercy rule.
So after posting four wins without a loss during this six-team, double-elimination gathering at Dragon Field that got underway this past Friday, Cortland is now headed to the Division III World Series after earning win No. 40 on the season. Coach Julie Lenhart’s squad has not tasted defeat since losing the first game of a doubleheader against Ithaca College back on March 23 — a stretch of 29 games.
Junior pitcher Lyndsay Rowell allowed just one hit in picking up her fourth victory of the regional, the offense provided 10-hit support and the Red Dragons will soon be bussing to Salem in Virginia with a sparkling 40-3-1 record.
Cortland is among eight schools advancing to the World Series, and will face No. 1 nationally-ranked Linfield from Oregon in an opening round game on Friday. Game time is 11 a.m. at the James Moyer Sports Complex.
“What we have here is really special,” said Oswego native Martin, who came to Cortland after having played at Monmouth University in New Jersey. “Everybody on the team has a really important role and everybody does it and is happy with it. We just pull together and do some awesome things.”
Among the awesome things in beating Piedmont (30-15) were freshman Meaghan Kohler stroking a key two-run double, leadoff hitter and senior sparkplug Donnalyn Cross scoring twice and Lucia Meola picking up a pair of hits.
EVEN TWO DAYS of rain, which interrupted the flow of this tournament and created a 45-minute rain delay in the title game against Piedmont, did not distract the Red Dragons.
“You can’t perform when you’re tight and not staying loose,” said Coach Lenhart of her free-spirited and confident crew. “We seem to do well with distractions. We’re very loose. Even in the dugout there’s a lot of non-softball talk at times, but it’s a very good group, a very tight-knit family type of group and they do have fun.”
“That’s a big key,” said second baseman Cross of the relaxed Cortland nature. “We don’t take it like it’s work, we take it like it’s something we love to do.”
Scoring 10 times over the third and fourth frames was relaxing, especially with hurler Rowell keeping Piedmont bats quiet.
Piedmont came into this game off a 7-1 victory over Moravian to reach the championship round, that game resumed Monday after having been halted by rain through five innings on Sunday. The Lady Lions had come back before, having won five straight games in their Great South Athletic Conference tournament following an opening setback to earn this trip north.
“We live in the country, so this is kind of like home,” said Piedmont coach Teddy Martin of coming to Cortland, his small school located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. “They (the NCAA) were going to put us on a plane so we wanted to go someplace we haven’t gone before. So when they told us we were going to New York, we were happy.”
Senior pitcher A.J. Cofer was a win shy of tying the school career record, too — but would not get that milestone.
To open the third inning of a scoreless contest, Cross was hit by a Cofer pitch. After a strikeout, Martin smacked a liner into right-center field and the speedy Cross was off and running. When that single was bobbled in the outfield, the Red Dragon raced home with the game’s first run. After a walk and a double steal, Kohler doubled to deep right to drive in two more runs for a 3-0 Red Dragon lead.
Five runs in the fourth tucked the game away. Lefty swingers Brooke Weidman and Cross both slapped singles the other way before Meola loaded the bases with a perfect bunt base hit. Martin then unloaded the bases hitting a 2-2 pitch in the right-center field gap.
“She has never, ever, ever been on a championship team. Never. Not in high school or at Monmouth until this year,” said Coach Lenhart of Martin. “I never knew that, because she steps up. When the game’s on the line, she steps up and has very clutch performances.”
Cassie Kardias, who had struck out in her previous two at bats against Cofer, doubled to left to bring Martin home for the eighth Cortland run in that big fourth frame.
THAT’S ALL ROWELL needed.
Dangerous Piedmont catcher Emily Cheek ripped a leadoff second inning single down the line in left for the only hit off Rowell. The only other baserunner came one-out into the final fifth inning, when mis-communication between shortstop Jessica Harmon and Cross allowed an infield pop-up to fall to the ground.
Rowell did go full counts to five of the first six batters she faced, but got sharper as the game went along to improve to 24-2 and lower her earned run average to a stingy 0.65. “For me it was more of a mental piece than a physical piece. I just had to get that focus,” she said.
She did just that, striking out three and getting some steady defensive help — like the sliding catch centerfielder Weidman made to take away a Cofer base-hit bid in the final inning. Getting Sunday off thanks to the rain, after having pitched 14 innings when Cortland beat Montclair State 4-3 and Moravian 3-1 the previous day, was a welcomed relief.
“I would have been able to throw yesterday, but with the day off I was able to get long and loose yesterday, get my arm back to full motion,” she said. “I would have been able to do it yesterday, yeah, but the day off I was okay with.”
So now it’s on to Virginia, with national title in Cortland’s sights.
“From here on out it’s not going to be 8-0 games. If it is, a pat on the back for us,” said Rowell. “We’re ready for 1-0 games. In this regional we’ve had the closest games we’ve had. We needed that. It was good for us.”

 

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