SALISBURY, Md. – For the ninth time in program history, Salisbury University will be represented at the NCAA Division III Softball Championship as the No. 4 Sea Gulls punched their ticket to Salem, Virginia with a 5-0 win against Christopher Newport University, sweeping the best-of-three super regional series following an 8-0 win on Friday.
Salisbury, playing as the visiting team, came out of the gates strong, scoring a pair of runs off Christopher Newport starting pitcher Krista Lewis in the top of the first inning to take early control and never let up.
"Our performance this weekend was maybe one of the best that I can remember in program history," Salisbury Head Coach Margie Knight said. "I think if you had seen us early, how we struggled and tried to figure ourselves out, and then over the last six games is like an entirely different team. We've come together and we're making such great choices up at bat, we're just doing wonderful things defensively. Rachel (Johnson) is in a wonderful groove with Becca (Hoey) – their game plan has just been tremendous."
Junior Katie Sebbane started the offense with a one-out bloop single to left-center field in the first before moving to third base on classmate Paige Knussman's double to right-center. The two would be there for just two more pitches before designated player Annah Brittingham ripped a single to left field, scoring both runs with Knussman sliding around the tag attempt from Christopher Newport catcher Hannah Cook.
The Sea Gulls showed why they are one of the top defensive teams in the nation in the bottom of the first inning when junior shortstop Kim Dorsey chased down a foul fly ball in shallow left field, making the diving catch with her back to home plate for Salisbury's first defensive out of the game.
"That just set the tone for everything," Knight said. "I think that showed that we were going to go after everything, we were going to be super aggressive."
Dorsey would add to the Salisbury lead in the top of the third, reaching on a single to left field before advancing on a bunt and coming around when Knussman laced a single to right-center field allowing Dorsey to motor home from second, sliding around the tag for the 3-0 lead.
Knussman, who went 6-for-7 in two games while driving in five runs and scoring four, was named the super regional's Most Outstanding Player. She was one of three Sea Gulls with at least three hits in the series, as the Gulls batted .358 (19-for-53) in the two wins.
The three-run cushion was plenty for senior starting pitcher Rachel Johnson, who limited the Christopher Newport offense in a way she had not been able to previously in her career. Entering the super regional this weekend, Johnson held a career 4.08 ERA against the Captains, but the Preston, Maryland native shut down Christopher Newport, surrendering just four total hits in two shutouts this weekend to be named the Most Outstanding Pitcher.
Johnson gave up three hits in the game, while allowing runners to reach scoring position just three times, but the biggest threat of the weekend by the Captains came in the sixth inning on Saturday. Salisbury held a 4-0 lead after Brittingham drove in the final of her three runs on the day, and Christopher Newport started things with a one-out single up the middle by Rachael Shifflett. After a strikeout, Brittney Walters doubled down the left-field line. Johnson would walk Sabrina Hill to load the bases with two outs, but would wiggle out of the jam. She got ahead of Jenna Sprinkle 1-and-2 before painting the outside corner for a called strike three to end the inning.
"I don't really know what was going through my head (during that at-bat). I knew we could do it, I knew (my teammates) were behind me, and I just made it a little interesting, I guess," Johnson said with a grin.
The lead grew by a run in the top of the seventh when Knussman drilled a solo home run to left field, her team-leading 10th of the year, to open the frame.
Johnson closed things out with a 1-2-3 seventh, including the last of her eight strikeouts on the day for the final out to secure her 26th win of the year.
Salisbury will open play in the NCAA Championship on Thursday, May 21, at 4 p.m., taking on DePauw University in the opening round. The double-elimination event, which will end with a best-of-three series, is scheduled to conclude on May 25 or 26 with the crowning of the national champion.