INFORMATION DIRECTLY FROM TRINE UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS
MARSHALL, Texas – The Trine University softball team completed an improbable comeback winning two games over Salisbury University to capture the 2023 NCAA Division III Softball Championship trophy. It is the first national championship in program history and just the second team championship by a Trine team since they joined the NCAA in 2004.
"I'm just so grateful that the kids buy into this," beamed head coach Don Danklefsen, "We aren't here without their sacrifice. I'm so glad to share this with this senior class and this team. It's a dream come true."
With the Thunder serving as the home team, Anna Koeppl took circle to begin the first game of the day. For the first time this week she appeared to make the start with perfect control of her pitches. She took a perfect game through the top of the sixth inning when the Sea Gulls finally reached base on a single.
"The coaches told me last night that you might not trust yourself right now, but we do. They told me I've proven myself this year and we're going back to you because we know you can do it," said Koeppl, "I knew this was my last day regardless of outcome so I just left it all on the field. I wanted to win it for this team."
"Koeppl was the dark horse in all this," said Carolyn Biel, "Everyone expected great things from our other pitchers before the season even started, but they over looked her. Anna Koeppl was absolutely the one we wanted on the mound for that first game."
The Trine offense on the other hand got going in the bottom of the first. They worked the bases full with a pair of walks and a single, before Emma Lee came up with a two-RBI single to score the first runs of the game.
The 2-0 score held for nearly three hours of real time, with a rain delay interrupting the contest during the early portion of the game. After the team's returned to the field the Thunder built on that lead in the fifth inning. Once again, the team worked the bases loaded on two walks and a single. Ellie Trine subbed in to bat and hit a fly ball to right field that scored the first run of the inning. The second came on the fifth walk of the inning with Ashleigh Tranter tallying the RBI.
Cassie Woods led off the sixth with a double, her first hit of the championship series, moving to third on a sacrifice bunt and then home on a Karley Trine single. Debbie Hill drew a walk to put runners on first and second with Emma Beyer bringing in the sixth run of the game on another single.
The top of the seventh finally saw Salisbury get on the scoreboard. They strung together three hits to score their first and then loaded the bases on an error. Alexis Michon entered in relief and walked the first batter to give the Sea Gulls two runs. But they got no closer with the game ending 6-2 in favor of Trine.
Koeppl finished the game with six and a third innings of work allowing just four hits and two runs along with the win. Michon finished with her sixth save of the season, tying the program record.
The win forced a decisive game three and after a coin toss, the Thunder would once again serve as home team on the scoreboard. Michon returned to the circle to start. After a rocky start that saw the Sea Gulls load the bases in the first inning, she settled in to another spectacular performance. She would pitch all seven innings of the contest allowing just two hits while striking out five.
"I just went in knowing that a national championship is on the line," said Michon, "People sometimes say it's just another game, but sometimes it's really not. When you have such a big opportunity to win something special you have to dig deep and lock down. And that was my goal for today."
"Michon is the ultimate competitor," continued Biel, "She pitched her heart out today. It was just great to catch for both of the games and I can't thank coach enough for the trust to let me do that."
"All year long Michon wanted the ball, they all did," explained Danklefsen, "We just kept telling her that she had to trust us. Our plan was to not wear out any of our pitchers during the season. We knew if we could come into this week fresh that we could win this thing. If we don't do that we can't win eight games in seven days like we did."
The performance was crucial with both teams still scoreless heading into the seventh inning. In the top of that inning Biel made what might have been the play of the tournament. With one out on the board the Salisbury batter was in the midst of a long at bat when she fouled a ball back toward the netting. Biel jumped onto the wall to make the heroic catch before the ball went out of play.
"Honestly before our tournament even started I told Koeppl wouldn't it be so cool if I just jumped up onto the wall and caught a foul ball," said Biel, "I guess sometimes when you visualize something it does come true."
Biel's heroics weren't done. In the bottom of the seventh, Beyer reached as the leadoff and Scarlett Elliott bunted her over to second bringing Biel to the plate. The graduate transfer recorded just her fifth hit of the season with a single down the leftfield line. It was enough to bring Beyer home and win end the game with the 1-0 victory in favor of the Thunder.
During the awards ceremony following the game, six members of the team were named as part of the NCAA Division III All-Tournament Team. Woods, Beyer, Lee and Michon were joined by senior Amanda Prather in earning the honor. Rounding out the group was freshman Debbie Hill who was named Most Outstanding Player, sweeping the honor at every round of this year's tournament.
The team finishes the season 46-6 following the two wins, the most wins in a single season in program history.
"I'm just in awe of this group," reflected Danklefsen, "Eight games in seven days in this heat. We were here till midnight multiple days. No one complained, no one said a word. We sat them down last night and said when we get back tomorrow night we're going to be the ones celebrating. And they just trusted us. They've trusted us all year."
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