Thursday, June 22, 2017 This Week's Paper

A Long, Familiar Road Leads to National Title

// Lutes Celebrate Championship After Beating Linfield

After being left out of the NCAA Division III tournament last year, the Pacific Lutheran softball team took on every challenge that came its way this season, including the ultimate challenge – having to get by conference foe and defending national champ Linfield in the national title game in Salem, Va. Led by ace Stacey Hagensen – who pitched all 58 innings in the regional tournament and championship series – the Lutes overcame their last hurdle with a 3-0 win over the Wildcats on May 21 to claim the national title, the school’s second-ever such claim in any sport.

“It’s validation for these girls,” said head coach Erin Van Nostrand. “We got left out last year and I think that’s been our rally call all year long – ‘you’re going to leave us out, when we get our chance we’re going to prove to you how good we are.’”

The Lutes did just that, rattling off four straight wins in the regionals in Tyler, Texas before charging to four more victories in Salem. The fact that the title game came against Linfield – who the Lutes beat to claim the Northwest Conference Championship as well – was that much sweeter.

“It was that statement that we needed,” said junior Kaaren Hatlen, whose double in the first inning of the championship scored Hagensen to put the Lutes up 1-0. “It wasn’t a fluke, we beat them six out of nine times (this year), we really know that we’re the best, and the Division III softball title is really ours, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind.”

Amanda Hall added a single to score Spencer Sherwin in the fourth and Hagensen drove in Amanda Goings with a groundout in the fifth to conclude the scoring along with pitching seven innings and allowing just three hits, with no walks and four strikeouts.

“When you have a strong defense behind you they’re going to make plays for you, and that kind of puts you at ease when you’re on the mound,” Hagensen said. “When your team goes out and puts runs up in the first or second inning, it makes it a lot easier to go out and pitch. It’s definitely a team effort, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without any of them.”

“We were the two best teams in the country,” Van Nostrand added. “It was fitting we played each other. It was crazy, but I think we were actually able to execute a lot of things we didn’t really pull out in the past, knowing that we were going to see them at some point down the road. I think the girls did a great job of executing the game plan.”

The title win came less than 24 hours after a wild 2-1 win in 12 innings over Montclair State, with Hagensen going the distance on the mound and Hall hitting a walk-off single to score Montessa Califano.

“I knew we’d do it eventually,” Hagensen said, “so I was just trying to keep them off the bases, keep them from scoring.”

The Lutes shattered the program record for wins in a season by going 45-11 this year, eclipsing the total of 40 wins from 1990. They also became just the second Pacific Lutheran team to win a Division III national title, joining the 1999 football team. Hatlen and Hagensen headlined a team chock-full of postseason accolades, with both earning Academic All-American status and Hatlen being named first-team All-American designated player and Hagensen being named a second-team All-American.

“We knew we belonged last year, so we just had to fight and claw our way to the top, and we did just that,” Hatlen said. “It’s just been an amazing run and these 20 girls are like family, and we wouldn’t be here without any one of the people involved in this program.”

“It’s a great way to go out, to end it,” added Hagensen, one of four seniors on the squad. “I wouldn’t have wanted to play with any other group of girls. They were awesome, they were encouraging, they make it so much fun.”