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Patriot softball wins national title

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Mangan’s walk-off grand slam brings championship to St. Catharine

By The Staff

SCC Sports Information

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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 home run, 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 United States Collegiate Athletic Conference (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.

Briarcliffe College

The Patriots opened the tournament Wednesday with a 2-0 win over the Seahawks from Long Island, N.Y. Amber Matteoli tossed six innings of one-hit ball and Mangan earned the save with a final inning of relief.

For Matteoli, the strong start had to be satisfying after the sophomore right-hander was excluded from any USCAA honors handed out at the tournament banquet. Despite leading the nation in many pitching categories, including strikeouts and wins, Matteoli did not receive even an honorable mention award for the All-American team.

“I really don’t care that much about individual awards, but I do know that coach was upset that I didn’t get anything,” said Matteoli. “But yes, it did give me a little motivation to show what I could do.”

What she did was record 10 strikeouts in her six innings with no walks and just one hit. The Patriots meanwhile scored single runs in the second and third innings. Megan Cheuvront, Justine Paddock and Nicole Mills each had two hits as the Patriots had nine hits for the game.

Judson College

In Wednesday’s second game the Patriots took a 4-0 lead over Judson (Alabama) after three innings and held on for a 7-4 win. Mangan nailed a monster home run shot in the three-run third inning and Paddock had a solo shot in the fourth frame. Mangan, Mills, Cheuvront and Casey Crouch each had two hits as St. Catharine outhit Judson 14 to seven.

Mangan pitched six innings, allowing four runs on six hits. Matteoli allowed one hit in her one inning of relief.

Robert Morris

In the final game of the winner’s bracket played Thursday, the Patriots came up with an exciting 5-4 win over the Eagles who entered the tournament as the top seed. Robert Morris took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning with two unearned runs off Matteoli as the Patriots made three errors, their only errors of the entire tournament.

But St. Catharine bounced back with two runs in the top of the seventh to take the 5-4 lead. Mangan singled in Cheuvront with the tying run and Paddock’s two-out single scored Crouch with what turned out to be the winning run. Mangan and Paddock each had two hits for the game.

Matteoli went the distance, allowing just one earned run while striking out eight and walking none.

Robert Morris

Constant rain postponed the title game that was to be played Thursday afternoon. With the rains still around for Friday morning, making the original site unplayable, the game was moved to St. Therese High School in Decatur.

The change of venue didn’t seem to bother the Patriots, who took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Mangan singled and Paddock doubled. That lead stood until the fourth inning when the Eagles plated two runs on three hits off Mangan.

The Eagles (23-12) added another run in the fifth inning and the Patriots answered with a run in the bottom of that inning when Paddock doubled in Cheuvront to make the score 3-2. Robert Morris made it a 4-2 game with a sixth inning run.

That set the stage for Mangan’s seventh inning heroics. Kasie Prather led off the inning with a single and Cheuvront followed with a base hit. Crouch then grounded to shortstop which looked like a sure out, but was misplayed, and the bases were loaded. Then, with one swing of the bat, Mangan took her team from a 4-2 deficit to a national championship.