Minnesota State in Division II, Virginia Wesleyan in Division III, they are the NCAA softball champions, with Division I starting Thursday
Minnesota State gets behind the stellar pitching of Coley Ries to turn back Angelo State, Virginia Wesleyan comes out of the loser’s bracket to streak past St. John Fisher
By Arnie Leshin
Pitching held the upper hand in the Monday finals of both the Division II and Division III NCAA softball championships.
In DII, it was the dominance in the circle by the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, right-hander Coley Ries, that brought Minnesota State-Mankato the title, 5-1, in a back-to-back sweep of Angelo State in Salem, Va.
In DIII, Virginia Wesleyan did the same, taking two from St. John Fisher, the clincher a 1-0 gem tossed by Courtney Wright and Hannah Hull in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Ries, a senior, is the school’s all-time leader in wins with 114. She concluded at 41-3 with an even 1.00 earned-run-average and 466 strikeouts in 290.2 innings. She set Angelo State down on three hits and struck out 14.
She also hurled game one on Saturday in a 3-0 triumph. The Mavericks celebrated the next day after finishing 64-7.
“We just ran into a buzzsaw,” said Angelo State head coach Travis Scott, “plus Minnesota State just played really well. So we go home a little disappointed over not winning the national title, but we can go home knowing we lost to a class program.”
Angelo State had splendid 60-7 campaign and reached the finals undefeated through the other rounds. Same with Minnesota State, but Ries made the difference.
“This week has been unbelievable and a dream, a dream for all of us,” said Ries. “Holding up the championship trophy is what we’ve fought for all year, and I couldn’t be happier or more proud of this group.”
The Mavericks scored once in the bottom of the first inning and added two more in the fourth to up their lead to 3-0. In the top of the sixth, Angelo State got a solo home run from Kenedy Urbany, but Minnesota State responded by scoring twice in the last of the frame on Jess Meidl’s two-run single to left field.
Then Ries struck out the final two batters to start the celebration.
Along with MOP Ries, the Mavericks placed Meidl, Alyssa Rickets, Carly Esselman and McKenzie Paap on the All-Tournament team. Angelo State’s Urbany, Danae Bina and Courtney Barnhill also made the team.
Urbany took the loss, giving up three runs on four hits, and it didn’t help her team’s cause as it committed three errors.
The DIII final saw Virginia Wesleyan rise out of the loser’s bracket after losing 4-1 in the first round to defending champion Texas-Tyler, 4-1. After that, the top-ranked Marlins reeled off seven straight pressure-packed wins, capped by the sweep over 8th ranked St. John Fisher, which rolled into the finals undefeated, thus it had to lose twice, and did.
In Monday’s first-game 5-0 win, Virginia Wesleyan (54-3) picked up a complete-game one-hitter from Hull, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The freshman left-hander struck out 46 batters in 31 innings of the tournament, and went 3-1 with a pair of saves and a 0.90 ERA. She went 32-3 for the season with six saves.
In game two, it was Wright who took charge from the circle. The Marlins took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning off of Cardinals’ ace Lindsey Thayer and that was all they needed, although Thayer did limit them to only three hits. St. John Fisher concluded at 44-8.