PREVIEW: Softball meets Southern Indiana in national championship series

SALEM, Va. – With both programs in search of their first-ever national title, the Saint Anselm College softball team and the University of Southern Indiana begin their best-of-three championship series in the 2018 NCAA Division II Softball Championship on Sunday, May 27 starting at 10 a.m. from James I. Moyer Sports Complex.

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Saint Anselm (44-11-1) and Southern Indiana (39-23) are both playing for a national championship for the first time, needing two wins to make history. The Hawks are 3-1 in Salem while the Screaming Eagles are 3-0 in their second-straight appearance at the NCAA Division II Championship. Should it become necessary, a deciding third game is slated for 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 29.

Fans making the trip to the James I. Moyer Sports Complex in Salem can purchase tickets at the complex. Individual day tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for seniors, students and youth. All-session tickets are available for $35 for adults and $20 for seniors, students and youth.

HOW THEY GOT HERE – SAINT ANSELM: Saint Anselm booked its spot in the championship series with a 3-0 victory over seventh-seeded and eighth-ranked Southern Arkansas on Sunday behind a shutout from sophomore Morgan Perry. Despite the leadoff batter reaching base in all seven innings, Perry held one of the nation's top offenses scoreless and the Hawks had all three of their hits in a three-run third inning. The win came in the third meeting between the two teams in Salem. The Hawks edged the Lady Muleriders, 2-1, in nine innings in Thursday's opener on a walk-off error and a nine-inning complete game by Perry before claiming another walk-off victory over sixth-seeded and No. 25-ranked Saint Leo the next day, 4-3, on a squeeze bunt by Shannon Colson. Southern Arkansas took advantage of nine walks for an 11-5 victory over Saint Anselm on Saturday setting up Sunday's winner-take-all game.

HOW THEY GOT HERE – SOUTHERN INDIANA: As the eighth seed in the final eight, Southern Indiana is the lone team yet to lose in Salem with a 3-0 record while allowing just four runs. The Screaming Eagles started their run to the championship series with a 1-0 win over top-seeded and top-ranked North Georgia as sophomore Jennifer Leonhardt threw a one-hit shutout and drove in the game's lone run in the sixth. The next day, Leonhardt threw the first no-hitter in the NCAA Division II Softball Championship in three seasons against third-seeded and sixth-ranked Angelo State in a 3-0 victory. The Screaming Eagles trailed sixth-seeded and No. 25-ranked Saint Leo, 4-2, after five innings on Saturday before rain halted the game, but Southern Indiana rallied for a 5-4 eight-inning win when the game resumed on Sunday. Junior Claire Johnson hit a solo home run to tie the game in the seventh and brought in the game-winning run when her ground ball was misplayed with the bases loaded and one out.

SAINT ANSELM NOTES

'MO'WING THEM DOWN: Since the start of regionals, Perry has won all seven of her starts, going 7-0 with a 0.92 ERA while holding opponents to a .190 average. In 53.0 innings in the circle, Perry has yielded just nine runs (seven earned) on 37 hits and nine walks with 48 strikeouts. Yesterday's shutout was Perry's ninth of the season.

THE BIGGER THEY COME, THE HARDER THEY FALL: Saint Anselm posted wins over No. 8 Southern Arkansas (twice) and No. 25 Saint Leo to bring its record to 5-2 against top-25 teams this season. The five wins against ranked opponents are the most in a season in program history. The Hawks received votes in the final National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 Coaches Poll of the regular season.

FINE MARGINS: Six of Saint Anselm's eight victories in the NCAA Tournament this season have come by either one or two runs and the eight wins have come by a total of 16 runs. The Hawks are 10-3 in one-run games this season and 18-4 in games decided by two runs or fewer.

THE ELITE…TWO?: Across all of Saint Anselm's varsity sports, the College has sent only two teams to the Elite Eight from a field of 64 teams. The last team to qualify was the 1999-00 men's basketball team that finished 23-9 after a trip to Louisville, Ky. to take on Metropolitan State. In 2017-18, the Hawks have competed in NCAA postseason events in men's basketball, men's and women's cross country, men's golf, field hockey and women's volleyball.

FLYING HIGH: Since starting the season 13-7-1, the Hawks are 31-4 in their last 35 games dating back to Mar. 25. Saint Anselm has won 20 of its last 22 games since Apr. 11, including a school-record 13-game winning streak from Apr. 11-28 that was snapped in the semifinals of the Northeast-10 Conference Softball Championship in a 2-1 loss to Pace in Garden City, N.Y.

RECORD WATCH: Perry and Colson each set single-season school records yesterday. Perry recorded her 180th strikeout of the season in the fifth inning, while Colson stole her 32nd base of the season in the second.

TOUGH TO BEAT TWICE: The Hawks have lost back-to-back games just once this season, falling 7-4 to Kentucky Wesleyan and 2-1 to Nova Southeastern on Mar. 2 on the team's first day at the PFX Spring Games in Clermont, Fla.

NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY: In its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Saint Anselm holds a 10-5 (.667) all-time record in the national tournament. After going 1-2 in the regionals in both 2002 and 2015, the Hawks ran through the East Regional with a 5-0 record and are now 8-1 in the tournament this season while making their first appearance in the final eight.

THE GAGNON FILE: This season's NE10 Coach of the Year, Jill Gagnon is in her fifth season as the head coach at Saint Anselm and has a career record of 123-81-1 (.602). Gagnon has guided the Hawks to a school-record 41 victories, their first-ever national ranking and a Northeast Division regular-season title on her way to earning her first NE10 Coach of the Year honor. She came to the Hilltop after three seasons as the pitching coach at UMass Boston (2010-12) and, following one season as an assistant, has led the Hawks to two of the program's three NCAA Tournament appearances since starting as head coach in 2014. Now coaching in her hometown of Manchester, N.H., Gagnon played collegiately at Merrimack, where she was a First Team All-NE10 selection in 2009 after a standout high school career at Manchester Memorial.

ALL-TIME VS. SOUTHERN INDIANA: Saint Anselm and Southern Indiana are meeting for the first time in softball as they vie for the national championship. The Hawks are 5-6 all-time against teams from the state of Indiana, most recently falling to No. 19-ranked University of Indianapolis, 7-1, last season on Mar. 10 in Clermont, Fla.