Wisconsin was a long way for the Linfield College softball team to go last year for the disappointment of falling in the NCAA Division III national championship game.
The Wildcats went the rest of the way across the country this year for the NCAA-III Finals, and left Salem, Va., on Tuesday as national champions.
“We won, so I’m very happy, obviously,” said Staci Doucette, an Evergreen High School graduate who plays first base for the Wildcats. “It was just a lot of hard work. We had a really good chance last year and we missed out and got second because I don’t think we played our best ball at the end of the season last year. This year, we kind of peaked at the right time. We played really well at regionals, and our bats and our pitching came together and it all worked out.”
The Wildcats capped a 51-3 season by beating Christopher Newport University 6-2, scoring four runs after an hour-long weather delay with the game tied in the top of the sixth inning. They overcame an upset loss to Texas-Tyler in the second round, which snapped a 35-game winning streak, by battling through the bottom bracket with three wins — avenging the loss to UTT — and beat home-state CNU twice for the crown.
“I think even at the end of last year, we knew that this year we had the opportunity to do something special,” Doucette said.
Doucette played shortstop as a freshman before a shoulder injury prompted a switch to first base in the middle of last season. Following two offseason surgeries, she was Linfield’s designated hitter for the first half of this season before returning to the field.
She is a three-time First Team All-America and All-West Region selection. She was NWC player of the year as a freshman and sophomore, and a First Team pick this season. As a sophomore, she was named Linfield College Female Athlete of the Year and was honored as the statewide Ad Rutschman Small College Female Athlete of the Year.
On Tuesday, she was named to the All-Tournament team of the NCAA-III finals.
Doucette values her team’s accomplishment more than her individual accolades.
“It’s kind of not important at this point,” she said of her All-Tournament selection. “We’re national champs, and that’s all that matters to me. I mean, it’s a cool honor, but we’re just excited to celebrate.”
For the season, Doucette led the team with a .532 batting average (75 of 141) and a .653 on-base percentage and was second with 21 home runs, 80 RBI, 147 total bases and a slugging percentage of 1.043. She drew a team-high 45 walks and struck out eight times in 54 games.
In NCAA regional and finals play, she hit .464 (13 of 28) with 16 RBI, walking 10 times with two strikeouts.
Linfield rolled through its NCAA regional in Pella, Iowa, winning four games by an aggregate score of 49-0, with no game lasting to the seventh inning. The Wildcats opened the Finals by beating State University of New York-Cortland 10-0 in five innings Friday before the 4-0 loss Saturday to Texas-Tyler dropped them to the bottom bracket.
It was no cause for panic.
“They played really well and we didn’t play well,” Doucette said of the setback. “We knew that if we would have played well, we probably would have won that game, so we made it a goal to take it one inning, one pitch at a time for the rest of the tournament.”
Linfield loses five seniors, but Doucette wants to hold off on looking ahead.
“I think we did have some really quality seniors, but if we can bring in some more quality freshmen, then we have a good chance to be contenders next year,” she said. “Right now, we’re just trying to let the victory soak in and enjoy it for a little while.”
• Western Washington distance runner Sarah Porter has been named the 2011 United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NCAA Division II West Region Outdoor Female Track Athlete of the Year. Porter will be competing in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the NCAA-II National Championships, today through Saturday in Turlock, Calif. She placed second in the 10,000 last year.
• Washington State redshirt sophomore first baseman Taylor Ard was named Pacific-10 Conference baseball Player of the Week for May 16-22. The Prairie High School graduate led the Cougars last week, batting .500 (12 for 24) with nine extra-base hits. He had six doubles and three home runs, driving in 11 runs in six games for the Cougars.
• Northwest Nazarene University senior thrower Grant Miller was named to the NCAA Division II All-Region team by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The Vancouver Christian graduate placed second at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships in the hammer with a mark of 176 feet, 8 inches — a new school record. He also was fourth in shot put and sixth in discus at the GNACs.
NNU senior Shayna Shute (Vancouver Christian) placed fourth in hammer, seventh in shot put, and eighth in discus.
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Note: This story was updated to correct “NCAA Division III” to “NCAA Division II” in the item about Northwest Nazarene University thrower Grant Miller.