Lions win Division II softball championship

Senior outfielder Courtney Shields celebrates with teammates during the Division II Softball Championship tournament in Denver. Shields went 5-for-7 in the final two games of the championship series and helped the Lions hoist its first national championship trophy in the softball program’s history.

The historic 2016 UNA softball season brought about many “firsts,” but the Lions experienced their pinnacle moment May 21 in Denver.

Heading into Saturday with its back against the wall, UNA found the two wins it needed, as the players hoisted a softball national championship trophy for the first time in school history.

After falling in a 5-0 loss to Humboldt State, it appeared the Lumberjacks were in the driver’s seat, needing only one more win to secure the championship. UNA answered the call with 10-1 and 4-1 victories.

“This team is just amazing,” said UNA coach Ashley Cozart. “All year long they have really done it all. We knew coming into today we have done this before.”

The national championship was the school’s seventh in all sports, with two coming in men’s basketball, three consecutive in football and one more in volleyball. The volleyball team was the last to win one before softball, dating back to 2003.

The Lions started junior pitcher Hillary Carpenter in both games, who did not lose a game in the entire postseason, had a 5-0 record in the World Series and received the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

“I have always felt I got better as I pitched,” Carpenter said. “In college, I haven’t had to pitch two games in a row. We have pitchers so we can alternate.”

Carpenter allowed one run in the top of the first inning, but neither the ace nor offense looked back. The Lions answered with three runs in the first inning and continued to add to its lead throughout the game.

Most of the damage came in the bottom of the six inning, as the meat of the order slammed a combined three home runs and four RBI’s to put the game out of reach.

Seniors Courtney Shield and Brooklynn Clark each hit solo shots to left-center field. After senior Harlie Barkley reached base, Anna Gayle Norris knocked a two-run homer directly over the centerfield wall, eventually giving the Lions a 10-1 win.

“(Starting off the sixth inning) was great,” Shields said. “We came back and showed what UNA softball is about. We came in and did our job.”

Shields finished the first game 4-for-4 and had four combined RBI’s in the two games.

As the deciding game followed 30 minutes later, UNA carried its momentum into the rubber match.

After a shutout first inning from Carpenter, Norris drove in Shields to give UNA a 1-0 lead in the first inning.

In the next inning, senior Carmen Whitfield laid down a squeeze bunt to drive in fellow senior Madeline Lee, pushing UNA’s lead to 2-0. With runners on the corners, Shields blasted a hit into the right field wall for a two-run triple.

UNA would hold the lead on Carpenter’s solid pitching and UNA’s flawless defense, who did not commit any errors in either game. Humboldt State added one more run on an RBI-double by Julie Pena, but could not scurry enough to survive.

As Lee tossed the final out to Clark at first base, the Lions secured the win and its place in the history books.

“We weren’t tight; We weren’t nervous or anything,” Cozart said. “That is what I love about (the team). They really fought today. They wanted this. I couldn’t be more proud of them and what they have done.”