This one might sting a while for Salisbury softball.
Needing just one win in two games to lay claim to their first national title, the top-seeded Sea Gulls instead got swept by No. 3 seed Trine, which won the Division III College World Series finals, two games to one, Wednesday afternoon at Taylor Field in Marshall, Texas.
Salisbury (49-6) lost Game 3, 1-0, in a reversal of sorts. After defeating No. 5 seed Berry on Sunday and the Thunder on Tuesday in walk-off fashion, the Sea Gulls got a taste of the other side when Trine got a game-winning, two-out single down the left-field line from graduate student catcher Carolyn Biel that drove in sophomore second baseman Emma Beyer from second base in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After sending its first six batters to the plate in the first inning, Salisbury could not decipher Thunder junior pitcher Alexis Michon. A one-out single by senior pitcher Lindsey Windsor ended up being the Sea Gulls’ final hit as Michon retired 14 batters in a row before Biel’s heroics.
Michon had entered Wednesday with a 12-1 record that included seven complete games and a 1.63 ERA.
“It’ll take weeks to recover from this one,” said Windsor, who went the distance and finished 18-2. “I don’t know what God’s plan was in this, but it definitely hurts.”
Salisbury dropped Game 2, 6-2, as an offense that had been ranked 18th in the nation in scoring was muted by Thunder senior pitcher Anna Koeppl and her teammates, who overcame a weather delay of 2 hours, 20 minutes. Koeppl, who entered with a 15-0 record that included a 0.46 ERA, used a variety of curveballs, screwballs and drop balls to pitch a perfect game through five innings and surrender only one hit through six before the Sea Gulls scored twice in the final inning.
Koeppl struck out four and allowed only four hits on just 84 pitches. Michon earned the last two outs in the seventh to claim her sixth save of the season.
On the flipside, Trine scored two runs against Salisbury senior pitcher Savannah Sheats — who had been 15-1 with a 1.13 ERA and earned the win in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Thunder — and added two more in the fifth and sixth innings each.
In three games against the Thunder, Salisbury compiled seven runs and 11 hits. Sophomore first baseman Carrie Jacoby credited Koeppl and Michon with being aggressive.
“They came at us,” she said. “We were attacking early, and we were attacking their pitches. They just didn’t fall like we wanted them to. It’s just one of those offensive days when things don’t go our way.”
Salisbury lost two games in the same day for the first time since May 28, 2022, when that squad was beaten by both Trine and Texas Lutheran in the College World Series. It lost a doubleheader to the same opponent for the first time since April 20, 2022, when that team was swept by Christopher Newport in Newport News, Virginia.
The outcome continued to leave Salisbury — which also finished second in 2003, 2005 and 2014 — as the winningest softball program in NCAA postseason history to never capture a national crown. The school is now 94-53 in the tournament, trailing only TCNJ (107-41), Eastern Connecticut State (101-50) and Central College of Iowa (97-62) in total victories.
The Sea Gulls’ march to the finals occurred a little more than 10 months after the sudden death of former coach Margie Knight. A Catonsville native and graduate who died July 31 in her sleep, Knight had retired in 2020 with 846 victories and as one of 14 coaches in Division III history to eclipse the 800-win mark, and the current group of players had adopted one of her favorite sayings, “Rooted as One,” as their official slogan and wore T-shirts with the words and her initials imprinted on them.
Junior outfielder Meghan Reed, a Churchville resident and C. Milton Wright graduate, had said that butterflies and other insects in the dugout reminded her and her teammates of Knight’s love for all creatures.
“She would always save every animal,” she said. “Nobody needed to do that, but she just cared so much about every living thing and every person, and that’s been the impact that she’s left with us. So every time we see something, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s Coach Knight!’ It just means a lot to notice her in these tight situations, and when it matters the most, we can lean on her because we know that she’s watching and is proud of us.”
Coach Lacey Lord, a 2006 graduate who played for Knight, tried to remain positive after the sudden ending.
“It’s really hard right now because this isn’t the outcome that we wanted,” she said. “It’s going to take some time to process it. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t be more proud of my team and all that they accomplished this season.”
Freshman right fielder Karley Trine paced the Thunder with five hits, three RBIs and two runs scored in 11 at-bats in three games. And freshman center fielder Emma Lee added five hits, two RBIs and two runs scored in 10 at-bats.
With the victory, Trine (46-6) avoided becoming the third program in NCAA postseason history to lose in the finals in back-to-back appearances. TCNJ in 1984 and 1985 and Chapman in 1998, 1999 and 2000 remain in that dubious club.
The Thunder became the first squad since 2014 to triumph in back-to-back elimination games for the title. That year, Tufts rebounded from an opening 2-0 loss to Salisbury to register identical 6-0 scores to collect what would prove to be that school’s second of three consecutive national championships.