Special to The Times
The Cullman Times
ST GEORGE, Utah — Wallace State softball has won its second national championship.
The Lady Lions, seeded eighth, defeated Salt Lake City (Utah) CC 7-3 in Saturday’s NJCAA Division I national title game, using another big offensive inning in order to capture it all at the Canyons Complex in St. George, Utah.
Tournament MVP and Most Outstanding Pitcher Lindsey DeFee scattered two earned runs on five hits in seven innings, freshman Kori Benson added her school-record 23rd home run and the Lady Lions put together a five-run seventh inning to pull away and earn the college its sixth national title overall.
“I can’t say enough positive things about this team. It seems like for the last month we’ve had a lot of clutch hits from people up and down the lineup. I can’t even begin to name them all, but that’s helped us achieve this ultimate goal, along with our two sophomore pitchers,” said Wallace State coach Jayne Clem, whose team won its first national crown in 2008. “Nobody thinks Alabama can play softball in junior college, so we never get much recognition. We still may not get any after this, but we’ll continue to prove it on the field.”
A year after finishing third nationally, Wallace State’s only hiccup in the tournament was an 8-0 loss in Saturday’s opener, forcing the Lady Lions to win the title in the if-necessary game.
The Lady Lions (55-12) were up to the task. Their forte throughout the entire tournament was giving the pitching staff a comfortable lead by exploding for big innings. With the game tied at 2-2, Wallace State decided the seventh was the magic frame in the finale.
For the third time in the tournament Wallace State batted around, sending 10 to the plate. Victoria Frith drove in the first run with an RBI single, and Katie Gentle and Kori Benson each added two-run singles for a 7-2 advantage.
After allowing a one-out solo homer and single in the bottom of the seventh, DeFee induced a 4-6-3 double play to start the celebration.
“Words can’t describe what this means to this team. It’s the best feeling I’ve had in my life,” said DeFee, a Eufaula native. “We proved ourselves the entire tournament. I knew our hitters were going to come through and take the pressure off the pitching staff.”
DeFee was pressed into duty earlier than she expected during Saturday’s opener, relieving BreeAnna Blevins and readjusting to Salt Lake hitters in the championship game. DeFee (26-5) earned three victories in the tournament, including two against second-seeded Salt Lake.
“It took a while for me to get ready mentally, and after we lost that first one, I told myself we weren’t going to lose the second one,” DeFee said. “I knew my teammates weren’t going to let it happen either.”
Wallace State reeled off a perfect march at the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) tournament earlier this month to punch its national tournament bid and was nearly as dominant at nationals. The Lady Lions felt they were slighted by earning a No. 8 seed in Utah, and they made each opponent pay.
Along their route to the title, Wallace State defeated top-seeded Butler (Kan.) CC, No. 2 Salt Lake and fifth-seeded Pima (Ariz.) CC.
“We play as a team — that’s all it is. From the first game at the state tournament to the last game here, we played as a team. Butler (CC) had tons of girls already signed with Division I programs, but that didn’t matter or intimidate us,” Wallace State sophomore catcher Paige Rowland said. “We knew what our mission was and we were going to get it. It also helped out we came so close last year. We knew what to expect and some teams here didn’t.”
Benson, Wallace State’s third baseman, was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the tournament, and she wasn’t a slouch with her bat, either. She hit three homers in the tournament, including a two-run shot in the championship game. She finished 2 for 4 with four RBIs.
“When I committed to play at Wallace State in high school, I knew I was going to be a part of a national championship team,” said Benson, an Oak Grove grad. “We came closer as a team after we lost some games we shouldn’t have in April. That’s part of growing up, and we’ve grown up a lot in the last month.”
Also named to the All-Tournament Team were Wallace State’s Gentle, Madeline Lee and Brittany Gillison.
Clem was named the winner of the Karen Sykes Outstanding Coach of the Tournament, earning the recognition for the second time in her eight national tournament appearances.