CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – For the first time in program history, the number one Baker University softball team won the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament title. The Wildcats defeated number two Grand View, 3-1 in the championship game on Saturday afternoon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
With the win, Baker improves its overall record to 45-7, while Grand View falls to 44-10. The Wildcats and Vikings have both earned an automatic bid into the 2019 NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round, which will be played May 13-15 on ten opening round campus sites across the country.
For the fourth time in the last seven days, the Wildcats and Vikings would do battle. The first time was last Sunday at Cavaness Field, where Baker earned the doubleheader sweep over the Vikings to claim the conference regular season championship on, senior day.
Baker would see the Vikings again in the conference semifinals on Thursday, May 3, defeating Grand View by a score of 1-0 to advance to the championship game. Grand View fended off elimination with a 3-0 win over number six Benedictine on the same day, setting the stage for the top two teams in the conference to battle once again.
Both teams remained scoreless through the first three innings of play. The Wildcats would strike first in the bottom of the fourth inning, scoring three runs on four hits. First Team All-Conference catcher Makayla Stromenger led off with a double to deep left-center field. Two batters later, senior Megan Porche doubled to deep left field to bring Stromenger around to score for the first run of the game.
After a fly out to, center field, sophomore Gold Glove award recipient Eva Gonzalez singled to shallow left field to score pinch runner Tiana Tinari from second base, pushing the Wildcat lead to 2-0. Senior first baseman Rachel Wheeler added the final run of the inning for Baker, crushing a double to deep left-center field, bringing Gonzalez around to score.
However, Grand View would battle back in the final inning of play. After a pop out to the pitcher’s mound, Lauren Poortinga doubled down the left field line to put the Vikings in position to bring their first run across the plate. Two batters later, Kaylee Watson would single to shallow center to put runners at first and third with two outs.
A single by Kelsey Winnett would bring the runner home from third base and cut the BU lead to 3-1. That was all that Grand View could do against Baker, as the next batter would fly out to Mackenzie Chinn in right field, solidifying Baker’s first conference tournament title in program history.
Senior ace Olivia Brees pitched for the fourth straight day and the fourth consecutive time against Grand View. The NAIA strikeout leader shut down one of the top offenses in the Heart, pitching a complete game with nine strikeouts and allowing only one earned run on four hits. Brees earned her 33rd win this season and 98th win of her career.
As a team, the Wildcats recorded six total hits in the championship game compared to Grand View’s four. Meaghan Grah started for the Vikings the second-straight day against Baker, giving up five hits and three earned runs in the loss.
The Vikings entered the tournament ranked number one in the conference in runs scored (7.20/game), RBI (6.57/game), slugging percentage (.555) and home runs (61). In four games played this season against Grand View, Baker held the Vikings to only two runs on 11 hits.
Six different Wildcats collected a hit in the championship including; Stromenger, Hannah Flynn, Porche, Gonzalez, Wheeler, and Chinn.
The ‘Cats will find out where they will next play in the 2019 NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round, which will be announced on Tuesday, May 7 at 4 p.m. EDT on the NAIA Facebook page. You can watch the NAIA selection show live, by clicking here.