Patriots Win National Softball Championship
Shay Mangan said she “just missed” the previous pitch that she fouled off on a count of 1-1. But she did not miss the 1-2 pitch that she sent in a long, towering arc over the left-center field fence of a high school field in Decatur, Illinois.
And when that homerun, a grand slam, landed, the St. Catharine College Patriots landed their first national championship in school history. Mangan’s dramatic blast came with no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and her team trailing Robert Morris University-Springfield (Illinois) 4-2. The final 6-4 victory gave Holly Smith’s team the national title in the eight-team tournament of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA).
The national title was not the only “first”, however, that took place Friday. “This is the first grand slam I ever hit,” said an elated Mangan amidst the jubilant celebration following the win. “This is the greatest feeling in the world. This has been a great team this season. I am so glad to be a part of St. Catharine College softball.”
And St. Catharine College is so glad that athletic director Mike Doig decided to affiliate the school’s programs this year with the USCAA after learning they would be ineligible for post-season play in the first year of NAIA competition. The Patriots, 27-25 for the season, swept four consecutive games in the national tournament while at the same time wading through rain delays that forced the final game to be moved from the Borg Warner Softball Complex to a local high school in downtown Decatur.
“I didn’t even see it (the home run) go over the fence,” said Smith who has been head coach of the Patriots for five years. “I just started running to home plate. In all the time I have been associated with softball this is the first walk-off home run I have ever been a part of.”
That was not the only unique part of the 2009 championship season as Smith added. “This is as much of a close knit team that I have ever had. It was a total effort from every player we had on the roster. I have never had this feeling. I am somewhat speechless. But I never doubted that they could do this. It was a team all year that never, ever gave up. That is the kind of team it is and that is what it takes to win championships.”
The only person that has been part of Patriot softball longer than Smith is Angie Curtis who now serves as assistant coach. Curtis played for the Patriots one year before Smith took the coaching position so this marks her sixth season with the team.
“It has been just great to see these girls come together like they have,” said Curtis. “We have come a long way since that first team I was on six years ago.”
The Patriots came a long way to get to the title game after landing a third seed in the eight team tournament. That higher seed came as a result of a tough schedule that sent them to Illinois with a record of 23-25. Once in Decatur the title chase was interrupted by rain after the Patriots had won their first three games. After beating Briarcliffe College in the opener on Wednesday they downed Judson College later that day. They then beat Robert Morris on Thursday in the finals of the winner’s bracket. Robert Morris then advanced from the loser’s bracket to face the Patriots again. But the tournament was postponed until Friday when Robert Morris would have to beat St. Catharine twice to take home the trophy.
It looked for six and one-half innings that Robert Morris would force that extra game. But, instead, Shay Mangan’s walk-off homer allowed the Patriots to walk off with the first national championship trophy in school history.