Softball concludes historic season as national runner-up

SALEM, Va. – Appearing in the championship series of the 2018 NCAA Division II Softball Championship in a matchup of unranked teams, the second-seeded Saint Anselm College softball team suffered its first back-to-back losses of the season to the same opponent, falling 4-0 and 8-3 to the eighth-seeded University of Southern Indiana on Monday at James I. Moyer Sports Complex.

Post-Game Press Conference

The Hawks finish as the national runner-up, becoming the first-ever Saint Anselm athletics program to earn that distinction. The softball program finishes its record-setting season with a 44-13-1 overall record that included three NCAA Championship wins against nationally-ranked programs.

After a 2-0 loss in the first game of the Northeast-10 Championship, Saint Anselm earned the right to host the East Regionals and the East Super Regionals. Across that five-game span, the Hawks recorded wins against formidable Merrimack, Southern New Hampshire and LIU Post programs to claim the program's first-ever East Region title and a trip to Salem.

Competing in the first "Elite Eight" from a field of 64 since the men's basketball team in 1999-00, Saint Anselm posted back-to-back walk-off victories against No. 8 Southern Arkansas and No. 25 Saint Leo. After an 11-5 loss to Southern Arkansas, the Hawks edged the Muleriders by a 3-0 margin on Sunday to earn the right to take on Southern Indiana for a national title in a best-of-three series.

The Screaming Eagles finished their entire NCAA Tournament run with only one loss, closing the year with a 41-23 overall record after claiming the squad's first Great Lakes Valley Conference title since 1998. With a 17-16 record near the midpoint of the year, Southern Indiana rebounded with only seven losses down the stretch – the streak gave the Screaming Eagles their first NCAA Division II National Championship in team history.

Sophomore pitcher Morgan Perry, senior outfielder Amanda Bickford and sophomore designated player Erin Thompson earned placement on the Championship's All-Tournament Team following the conclusion of the tournament.

Game One: Southern Indiana 4, Saint Anselm 0 | Box Score

Southern Indiana started the day with a 4-0 victory in game one behind five innings of one-hit ball from Jennifer Leonhardt and a three-run home run by Caitlyn Bradley in the third. Leonhardt held Saint Anselm to just one hit and one walk with six strikeouts in five innings before Haylee Smith shut the door over the final two innings. All four USI runs in the game came with two outs.

Leonhardt won her fifth-straight start to improve to 25-12 on the season for the Screaming Eagles, who got a combined three-hitter from the Leonhardt and Smith. Perry saw her streak of seven-straight victories come to an end, falling to 26-5 after surrendering four runs (three earned) on seven hits in six innings with two walks and one strikeout. Freshman Courtney Fisher worked a scoreless seventh with one strikeout.

Saint Anselm's defense prevented Southern Indiana from scoring the first run in the top of the second, when Taylor Ricketts drove a double to deep right-center field and Marleah Fossett tried to score from first. After tracking the ball down, Bickford hit Madison Borrelli and Borrelli's relay throw was on the money to the plate for Megan Murrell to apply the tag.

The Screaming Eagles did get on the board first in the top of the third on a three-run home run by Bradley that stayed fair inside the left-field foul pole. Bradley's blast followed a two-out walk to Claire Johnson and a single by Leonhardt through the right side. Southern Indiana threatened for more in the fourth, loading the bases with two outs, but Maggie Murphy tracked down a well-hit ball by Johnson in left to end the frame.

Southern Indiana tacked on a fourth run in the top of the sixth, capitalizing on back-to-back errors to start the frame. The consecutive errors left runners on second and third with nobody out and, after the Hawks got two outs without the runners advancing, Johnson drove an RBI single through the left side to make it a 4-0 game.

In the bottom of the sixth, USI brought Smith in to replace Leonhardt and the Hawks greeted Smith with back-to-back singles by Bickford and Murphy. After narrowly missing a hit down the left-field line, Thompson advanced both runners with a ground ball to first, but Smith got out of the inning by inducing another ground ball to first and a fly out to left.

In the bottom of the seventh, Saint Anselm mounted a rally to bring up the tying run as the Hawks filled the bases with two outs. Borrelli and Shannon McLaughlin drew back-to-back two-out walks and Bickford reached on an error before Smith got Murphy, the tying run, to ground out to second. The walk by Borrelli set a program record for walks in one season (27).

Game Two: Southern Indiana 8, Saint Anselm 3 | Box Score

Southern Indiana cruised to an 8-3 victory in the second game, scoring all eight runs with two outs in the inning to finish the day scoring all 12 of its runs with two outs. The Screaming Eagles put the game out of reach early, scoring seven runs in the second inning and tacking on an insurance tally in the bottom of the third inning. Saint Anselm scored the game's final three runs but the early damage by Southern Indiana proved insurmountable.

Southern Indiana continued its two-out hitting in the bottom of the second with six-straight run-producing hits as part of a seven-run frame. With runners on second and third and two outs, Olivia Clark-Kittleson beat out an infield single to drive in the first run. Johnson and Leonhardt followed with RBI singles before Bradley delivered a two-run double to the gap in left center just out of the reach of a diving Murphy. Allison Schubert and Fossett also drove in runs with singles later in the frame.

Johnson stroked a home run to left field in the bottom of the third inning, extending the Southern Indiana lead to 8-0. Saint Anselm broke up Leonhardt's no-hit bid in the top of the fourth inning as Bickford flicked a leadoff double to left-center field. Murphy followed with a stand-up double in almost the same location, plating the first run of the day for the Hawks.

Bickford smacked a double to left field in the bottom of the fifth inning that ultimately scored two runs after the left fielder broke in and the ball sailed over her head. With one out in the frame, freshman Lauren Washburn singled to center field and McLaughlin walked to set the stage for Bickford's two-run double.

Fisher drew the loss for Saint Anselm, yielding six earned runs through 1.2 innings. Perry came on in relief, allowing two earned runs over the final 4.1 frames.

Leonhardt was stellar once again for Southern Indiana, pitching seven complete innings while yielding only four hits. She collected the championship's Most Outstanding Player honors after allowing only one hit across her first two starts against nationally-ranked North Georgia and Angelo State. After eight innings of four-hit ball against Saint Leo, Leonhardt stymied the Hawks offense in both of Monday's contests.

Perry finished a stellar sophomore season with 35 appearances, setting the single-season record while also pitching a team-record 193 innings in 2018. Her 184 strikeouts on the season broke the previous record of 179, set by Andrea Messina '03 in 2001.

The game marked the final contest in the careers of Bickford, Murrell and McLaughlin, the team's three seniors. The trio was part of two of the program's three trips to the NCAA Tournament and won 97 games over their four-year careers, including a program-record 44 in 2018. Bickford concluded her career as Saint Anselm's all-time leader in career hits (235) with a .388 batting average in 165 games, while Murrell drove in a school-record 106 runs over her 161-game career while batting .315. McLaughlin tallied 98 hits in her 149 games for the Hawks, driving in 49 runs and recording 1,060 putouts at first base.