Just four teams remain in the DII softball championship after Saturday's first elimination day of the tournament. No. 1 UT Tyler escaped the elimination bracket to cap the day, a day in which several programs achieved some monumental firsts and historic performances.
FOLLOW LIVE: Scores and updates from the finals
Before Grand Valley State and Central Oklahoma begin Sunday's elimination games, let's look at Saturday's action.
A day of firsts at the 2023 DII softball championshipCougars make program history at DII softball finals
In Game 1 it was Wilmington (DE) vs. Cal State San Marcos. Both teams were still looking for that historic win, and someone was guaranteed in getting their first DII softball championship finals victory in program history. It was the Cougars who survived and advanced, victorious 3-2 in a tightly contested ball game that made the Wildcats the first team sent home from Chattanooga.
For the Cougars, it was Savannah Coyle who got the ball in the circle. Coyle had become the closer in the tournament, but a strategic move to start the lefty in her first tournament game of the season paid off. “Our advanced scouting report had Wilmington hitting 90 percentage points against lefties than righties,” Cougars’ head coach Stef Ewing said, confirming what was arguably her best decision in a season of great decisions.
“It was fun,” Coyle said of getting the ball in the history-making start. “I have been a closer recently, but when I get to start, I love it. I don’t think of anything differently, I go in there and tell myself to mow them down.”
With a historic run already in the books, the Cougars didn’t have time to rest, needing to prepare for Central Oklahoma in the nightcap. But that’s okay for this young core. “It’s just the start, both me and Jayline [Sloss, the Cougars' other starting pitcher] have two more years to do this again. We’re going to keep doing our best and have that postseason mindset and know every year we’re going to go as far as we can go, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job doing that.”
”We’re Warriors. That’s what we do.”
Nova Southeastern and East Stroudsburg was also a historic matchup, with both teams looking for their first victory ever in the DII softball finals as well. And neither pitcher wanted to be the one to lose.
It was a duel for the ages, as runs were at a premium. The Warriors’ Paige Zigmund, as she has been all season, was sharp. Her velocity was arguably among the best of the day, but it was her ability to take some mustard off the pitch that equally impressed. Opposite her was the Sharks’ ace Alyssa Drogemuller, who despite facing a little adversity in a couple of innings, fought her way around it and kept goose eggs on the scoreboard until the decisive sixth inning.
But the story was Zigmund, who admitted in a postgame presser that she needs the stress and likes to get the ball in the big game. She allowed back-to-back hits in the first inning that scored the Sharks' lone run and then didn’t allow a single hit the rest of the way, minus a seventh-inning bunt hit that landed in front of the catcher and was barely beat out. “My coach always tells me I get stronger as the game goes on, so it’s always my first inning I kind of struggle," Zigmund said. "But I knew if my team was confident in me, I would just shut it down. So, I didn’t let it get to me and kept pitching my game.”Bronchos win the first high-scoring affair in Chattanooga
Sure, Grand Valley State opened the tournament with a 10-run onslaught, but it was in blowout fashion. Aside from that game, runs have been minimal in the first few days of the tournament — that is until the Bronchos and Cougars stared down elimination.
It was a back-and-forth battle, one in which the Bronchos jumped out to an early 5-0 start, but the resilient Cougars once again fought back to cut the lead to one. Central Oklahoma prevailed 10-6 and it was a freshman who set the tone for Central Oklahoma early on.
Emily Deramus, the first-year shortstop for the Bronchos, came up in possibly the biggest at-bat of her award-winning freshman campaign. With bases loaded in the second, Deramus cleared the bases, recording the first three-RBI tournament game of her promising, young career. In a tournament where runs have been hard to come by, it gave the Bronchos the momentum they would need to hold off the Cougars.
”That was huge,” said head coach Cody White. “As a freshman, she’s one of the most clutch players I’ve ever coached. She’s very mentally strong and in those situations, that’s who you want up. We have a lot of offense throughout our lineup, but Emily has done it time after time, was the freshman of the year in our conference, and those are the reasons why. Just the thought process of seeing her in that big moment was huge for our team to cash in and really got the momentum rolling for us.”
Tatum Goff makes history to keep No. 1 Patriots championship hopes alive
UT Tyler is the No. 1 seed for the second year in a row. The Patriots lost a pitching duel to Grand Valley State in the second game, pushing them to the elimination bracket in a must-win against East Stroudsburg.
Behind the strong pitching of Tatum Goff, they did just that.
JT Smith drives in the first run for No. 1 @uttylerpatriots Talk about a seeing-eye base hit. Smith crushed a ball just foul on the prior pitch which would have blown the game open. Pats lead 1-0 for now. #d2sb pic.twitter.com/yrEjmchqw2— Wayne Cavadi (@WayneCavadi_D2) May 27, 2023
Goff set the DII record in the victory with her 41st consecutive victory. She's now 41-0 on the season with a 1.39 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 240 strikeouts. "That's crazy," said Goff with an ear-to-ear smile. "It goes back to last night. We had a little pow-wow and basically told [the team] it's all or nothing. We're putting yesterday behind us and just going out there and doing the best we can. My teammates behind me, too, they are the reason why the record was broken."
So, why is this important in a day of firsts? It's not the first time a No. 1 seed had to go to the elimination bracket. That is actually the point. Since 2017, when teams started getting seeded No. 1 through No. 8 in the DII softball finals, no No. 1 seed has won the national championship. In fact, only No. 1 Angelo State made it to the championship series, and that was back in 2017. In the five tournaments since, nary a one made it to the final day of the tournament.
UT Tyler's victory was a big one, getting to East Stroudsburg's dynamic duo for a 6-2 victory. But it also kept hopes alive that perhaps we will see that No. 1 win its first national championship. "To have double-digit hits, made some things happen, running the bases hard, sliding, it kind of looked like some of the formula that got us here," said head coach Mike Reed. "That was good to see."
It was good to see for Coach Reed, but it may be bad for the rest of the field. We'll find out Sunday in an elimination game against North Georgia.