TYLER — The Texas Lutheran Bulldogs won the 2019 NCAA Division III Softball Championship on Monday afternoon with 12-4 and 6-1 wins over the Emory (Ga.) Eagles at Suddenlink Field and captured a DIII national team championship for the first time in school history.
TLU rolled through the NCAA Division III regional, super regional, and national championship finals rounds with a 10-1 record.
The Bulldogs (40-8) stormed through the DIII College Softball World Series in Tyler with a perfect 5-0 mark.
Emory and TLU each entered the championship finals best two-of-three series with 3-0 records. Emory closed out its national runner-up season with a 39-13 mark.
Counting team national championships in the AIAW and the NAIA, Monday’s national title was the fifth team national championship in TLU history.
TLU now has team national championships in football (1974 and 1975 NAIA-II), women’s volleyball (1975 and 1976 AIAW-II), and softball (NCAA Division III).
Adding individual golf championships and relay and individual championships in track & field, TLU now celebrates 12 national crowns in its athletics history.
Bulldog first-year pitcher and outfielder Chassety Raines was named the championship’s Most Outstanding Player. She tossed a complete-game, three-hitter and went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI in the clincher.
Starting in center field in the first championship game, Raines produced two hits, including another double, and had a run scored.
In the seventh inning of the final game, Raines worked a 1-2-3 inning to set off the celebration. The first two outs in the inning came on ground balls to senior third baseman Kassie Maddox. The final out was a fly ball to center field for All-American Kelly Jurden to grab.
“I told Chassety, ‘Chassety, you have to finish this, and let’s finish this together,’” said Maddox, who hit a two-run home run in the third to give TLU a 3-0 lead. “When the last out happened, it’s a dream. There are no words to describe it. It’s a moment you won’t ever forget.”
Raines had to work through her emotions in the circle in the final inning.
“The second grounder Kassie had, and I got the ball back from Madi (second baseman Madisyn Cates), and I started crying then,” said Raines. “I’m like, ‘We are an out away. No, we have one more. It’s not over.’
“I had to water my eyes, standing up there. The third out, the fly ball to Kelly, as soon as I saw her catch it, I jumped up, and it was instant tears. It’s such an overwhelming feeling. It was just awesome.”
Raines, a starter for head coach Wade Wilson throughout her true freshman season in a Bulldog uniform, knew early-on that a national championship was the main goal for the Bulldogs, who had made five consecutive NCAA regional appearances but had never advanced past a regional tournament.
“When I was getting recruited by Coach, he was always saying that, ‘Our goal is to win a national championship, and we think that you can help us do that,’” said Raines, who finished the year a perfect 10-0 in the circle with a 1.03 ERA. She also hit .372 with nine doubles and 20 RBIs.
Raines’ performance came after another outstanding performance from the team’s ace, junior right-hander Kayla Oliveira, in game one. Oliveira allowed just one earned run in five innings against the Eagles. She struck out three and walked two in improving to 18-3 overall.
Oliveira was helped by a Bulldog offense that put up 12 runs and pounded out 11 hits in the championship series opener.
TLU put up eight runs in the third inning and three more in the fourth to end the contest after five.
In that eight-run third, the Bulldogs collected RBI doubles from Skylar Ouellette, Cates, and Cassie Roche and RBI singles from Ouellette, Jurden, and Casey Martin.
Oliveira put the game in run-rule territory in the fourth with a two-RBI single.
In game two, Raines started the three-run second inning with an RBI double down the right-field line.
Maddox followed the Raines double with a no-doubt home run to left, putting TLU in front by three runs.
In the fifth, TLU started the frame with back-to-back home runs to center field off the bats of Rebecca Snow and Ouellette. The Bulldogs added an insurance run in the sixth with a sacrifice fly from Martin.
Smithson Valley graduate Haley Padilla, a Texas Lutheran sophomore, pinch hit for Jurden in the second game and reached base after being hit by a pitch. Padilla finished the season with a .233 batting average, 16 RBIs and 13 runs scored.
For Wilson and Bulldog Softball, the two wins Monday for the national championship capped an eight-year journey to the top of the NCAA Division III mountain. The Bulldogs were 19-19 in his first year in Seguin and were 145-167-1 (.465) in the eight years prior to his arrival.
Since Wilson took over, the Bulldogs have gone 282-66 for a winning percentage of .810. The team has won six consecutive Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships, and this year broke through with an NCAA Regional, NCAA Super Regional and NCAA National Championship.
TLU loses three seniors — Maddox, Lauren Myers, and Kylie Murdock — from the team, but the bulk of the roster will be back in 2020 for another championship run.
The Bulldogs stayed the night in Tyler on Monday and returned to Seguin and the TLU campus Tuesday for a celebration in the Graf Lounge of the Alumni Student Center.