Duncan pitches masterfully, Red Storm eke out 1-0 win in 1st game at NCAAs

Dixie State at the NCAA Division II Championships.

OKLAHOMA CITY – The third game of the NCAA Division II Softball Nationals featured the two top remaining offensive teams, the Dixie State Red Storm and the California Vulcans from Pennsylvania. But two All-American pitchers, DSU’s Michelle Duncan and CUP’s Alex Sagl, made sure this was no high-scoring shootout. Duncan improved her record to an perfect 30-0 in a two-hit shutout by the slimmest of margins 1-0.

“It was vintage Duncan,” said Dixie State head coach Randy Simkins. “She got ahead in the counts and forced the action. She played great.”

Dixie State pitcher Michelle Duncan, Dixie State University vs. Notre Dame de Namur University, Softball, St. George, Utah, Apr. 11, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Dixie State pitcher Michelle Duncan, Dixie State University vs. Notre Dame de Namur University, Softball, St. George, Utah, Apr. 11, 2015 | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

The only run scored was an RBI triple by newly-crowned Freshman of the Year Janessa Bassett. With one out in the top of the fifth, Simkins brought in pinch hitter Brooklyn Beardshear. She watched the first three pitches go for balls. Then the sophomore utility player blooped a Sagl fastball back up the middle for a single.

“We told Brooklyn she was in there to hit, not to draw a walk,” said Simkins. “She has come up big for us all year in these situations.”

Simkins called for Kristie Johnson to come in and run for Beardshear. After Josey Harman flied out to the center fielder, Bassett stepped up to the plate. On the first pitch thrown to her, Bassett smacked the ball to the center-right gap.

“She threw a fastball right up the middle,” said Bassett. “Coach Simkins told us ‘Do not let a pitcher mistake go by.’”

Bassett recorded the triple, scoring Johnson all the way from first. That was all Duncan would need as she retired 18 out of the last 19 batters.

Janessa Bassett
Janessa Bassett

Early in the first inning, the Red Storm had runners at the corners with one out. Catcher Marla Reiter laid down a bunt to try and squeeze Nicole Chavez home from third. It appeared to all and the replay confirmed that Chavez slid under the tag, getting both hands on the plate before Vulcan catcher Megan Jahoda applied the tag to Chavez’ helmet. To all, that is, except to home plate umpire Jen Collins, who called Chavez out on the play.

“That call was very deflating,” said Bassett. “We all knew she had made it. We knew we had to bounce back from that.”

Simkins echoed the sentiment.

“We told the girls to stay positive,” said Simkins. “It was early. We knew we would get more chances.”

The Storm had another excellent opportunity in the top of the third. Hartman led off the inning with a single to left field. Bassett followed with a reach on a fielder’s choice. Chavez took a 1-2 pitch to right field. Vulcan right fielder Kaity Finley charged the play, making a shoestring catch. She threw to first baseman Lindsay Reicoff to catch Bassett off base. Reicoff then threw to shortstop Emily Price to catch Hartman at second for the rare triple play.

“I did not think the right fielder was going to make that catch,” said Simkins. “We had the runners going and responded to the catch too late.”

Except for a lone error in the bottom of the sixth, the Storm defense played flawless. Duncan gave up two hits, one each in the first two innings. She also struck out seven and never faced serious jeopardy as CUP could only manage four base runners all game.

Sagle took the rare loss to fall to 27-5. The Vulcans fall to the one-loss bracket and will play the Jennies of Central Missouri State on Saturday. The Storm will play the unranked Adelphi Panthers Friday at 5:30 p.m. (Mountain time).

In the upper bracket, Indianapolis and Shorter both advanced as the lower-ranked team won in every game other than the Dixie State-California match-up. The first game between the Greyhounds and the Hawks begins at 3 p.m. followed by the Red Storm and Panthers.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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