Lacey Lord is not superstitious, and that’s probably a good thing.
From 2003 to 2005, Lord pitched Salisbury softball to the NCAA Division III College World Series at the Moyer Complex in Salem, Virginia, in each season. On Thursday, she will return to the same field for the championship series as the coach of the Sea Gulls.
Lord’s memories of her time in the softball finals are not especially fond. She surrendered the eventual game-winning grand slam in a 5-3 loss to Central (Iowa) in the 2003 title game, and Salisbury finished runner-up in 2003 and 2005 and third in 2004.
Still, Lord, who played at the time under her maiden name Lister, said she harbors no apprehension about returning to the same field where she encountered disappointment.
“I’m not going to do anything to try to change the field,” she said with a laugh. “I think there’s good mojo there, and we’ve just got to go do what we’ve got to do.”
In just her second season at the helm, the 37-year-old Lord has constructed the Sea Gulls into one of Division III’s powerhouse programs. With a 41-6 record, Salisbury, the No. 2 seed among the final eight teams, has racked up the most wins in a season since the 2014 squad went 44-5 en route to another runner-up finish in the College World Series.
The Sea Gulls will open play in the NCAA’s double-elimination bracket on Thursday at 4 p.m. against No. 7 seed Millikin (37-7). Junior starting pitcher Lindsey Windsor said she and her teammates are feeling optimistic due to Lord’s faith in them.
“If she’s confident, that makes us confident,” Windsor said. “She’s told us that when she would be throwing against a batter, she would in her head, ‘I can beat you.’ She really rubs off on us that way. We need to be confident and know that we’re better than our opponent, and that is how we will win games.”
Lord’s history with Salisbury began more than two decades ago when she was discovered by then-coach Margie Knight during a tournament. Recruited by Kutztown and Caldwell, she chose the Sea Gulls to be closer to her family in nearby Denton.
Lord developed into one of the program’s greatest players. The right-handed pitcher earned All-America status in each of her four years (including first-team honors as a senior in 2006), was named the Player of the Year in the Capital Athletic Conference three times, and graduated with a bachelor’s in elementary education and school records for career wins (105) and strikeouts (1,096).
Her individual success, however, pales in comparison to what Lord accomplished with her teammates.
“Salisbury was always a good, solid program, but being able to get them to the championship series and helping them to continue to build the legacy that was here was meaningful,” she said. “So the personal accolades were awesome, but I wouldn’t have been who I was without the team behind me.”
While Lord and others might remember the grand slam she surrendered in that setback to Central, Knight recalled that moment as a turning point in Lord’s career.
“That was devastating for her, but I think it just gave her more fight,” Knight said. “She had pitched so well, and that was the only home run of that young lady’s career. That made her even more determined. As good as she was then, she wanted to get better. I think those experiences just build character. It’s not about the grand slam, and it’s not about getting there. It was about her teammates.”
After graduation, Lord served on Knight’s staff as an assistant coach for two years before traditional rival Washington College hired her away to lead its program. In 12 seasons, she shaped the school that had made one appearance in the Centennial Conference tournament into one that qualified for the postseason seven times.
In 2013 — one year after she married her husband Jeff — Lord and the Shorewomen captured their first tournament championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA postseason. That team amassed a program-record 27 victories and a win in the NCAA Tournament.
Before the coronavirus pandemic canceled college sports in March 2020, Knight announced her decision to step down at the end of the season. She kept her thoughts to herself but was ecstatic when Salisbury announced in June it had hired Lord to succeed her.
In less than two years, Lord has molded the Sea Gulls into one of the more prolific teams in the country. Through May 16, the current group ranks fourth in home runs (47) and shutouts (19), seventh in the nation in earned run average (1.42) and 20th in batting average (.349).
Windsor pointed out that Lord has emphasized the significance of base running, which has resulted in the team ranking 17th in runs scored (286) and 22nd in on-base percentage (.414).
“Most practices, we get out there, and we start with base running,” she said. “We find that most of those runners that are put on the bases end up scoring. We have a lot of stolen bases, and that’s partially due to the fact that we work on that timing with the ball out of the pitcher’s hand, and if we pick up that changeup, we’re going to go.”
Lord is hoping for more of those results at the championship series in Salem. While excited to go back, she acknowledged that she is feeling slightly more anxious as a coach than she did as a player.
“As a player, you have a little more control than you do as a coach,” she said. “I had the ball in my hand every pitch, and as a coach, you don’t have that. But I’m not nervous because I know that we have prepared this whole season, and I’m not nervous because I know that we’ve prepared the right way.”
Knight, who is now a volunteer assistant coach on Lord’s staff, said she has not sensed any extra motivation on Lord’s part to redeem the three previous trips to the softball finals.
“She loves Salisbury, and she certainly wants to win a national championship, but she wants to do it for these players, not for the past,” Knight said, adding that Lord has declined to show off any of her All-America trophies in her office. “It isn’t about her. This is about the team.”
Windsor said the players are determined to complete the task for both Lord and Knight.
“We’re definitely doing it for them,” she said. “I don’t know if anyone will get us down. Let’s hope not.”
Lord, the only softball player to have her No. 14 jersey retired by the Sea Gulls, echoed her mentor’s sentiment, saying, “It would just be so rewarding, but not just for me, but for all of alumni that have come through the program. … When you just think about the pride that the program has, being able to bring that home for this group of women who have worked so hard and have gone through so much would just be amazing.”
NCAA Division III Tournament
NO. 2 SALISBURY VS. NO. 7 MILLIKIN
Thursday, 4 p.m.
at Salem, Virginia