Play Ball!

By Mark Fleming

"The championship of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III Leadoff Classic, ranked No. 1 in the nation for four weeks, a 29-game winning streak, an undefeated Commonwealth Conference season, a fifth straight conference championship, a seventh straight berth in the NCAA Tournament, the first-ever NCAA Regional Championship and a trip to the World Series, a school record 40-win season—and you just played for the national championship.

I’d say that is a pretty good season."

That’s what head coach John Byrne ’82 told 18 teary-eyed players, standing in right field after the 2004 Moravian College softball team lost the NCAA Division III National Championship game, 2-0, to the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota). The Greyhounds had made it to the final game of the World Series, played May 14-17 at the James I. Moyer Sports Complex in Salem, Virginia.

The team’s World Series adventure began May 12 with a big pep rally at Johnston Hall as the Greyhounds boarded their bus at 9:00 a.m. for the 6˝-hour trip. When the squad arrived in Salem, the Wyndham Hotel held a welcome picnic for all participating teams. On Thursday, Moravian had a morning practice before a traditional Southern barbeque hosted by the City of Salem. Then there was karaoke for the teams, and the entire Greyhound squad got up to sing “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen.

That evening was the NCAA Championship Banquet at the Salem Civic Center, during which Jenn Hastings ’04 and Melissa Soroka ’04 spoke to the crowd about Moravian’s season. At the end of the banquet, the 2004 Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans were announced. Heather Bortz ’05 and Meagan Hennessy ’06 become the first two First-Team All-Americans in Moravian history.

To qualify for the World Series, Moravian won three games at its regional championship, hosted by Ramapo College of New Jersey. This was the second straight year that the Greyhounds had traveled to Mahwah, New Jersey, for the first part of the NCAA Tournament. When they reached the eight-team, double-elimination championship round, the Greyhounds were seeded eighth, as the NCAA had considered Moravian’s regional the easiest of the eight.

At their first appearance Friday, the Greyhounds set their theme for the entire tournament: David against a series of Goliaths. Moravian’s team comes from a student body of just 1,400, but the three schools it played in the series had an average enrollment of 7,000 students. And the University of St. Thomas is almost 10 times Moravian’s size, with more than 13,500 students at its campus in St. Paul.

Since Moravian was seeded lowest, it was forced to open the series with a game against top-seeded Chapman University in Southern California. After just one inning, it looked as if the NCAA had seeded the regionals correctly: Moravian trailed the Panthers, 5-0. The Greyhounds were down 6-1 and heading to their final at-bat at the top of the seventh inning when the team finally decided to arrive in Salem.

The Greyhounds scored five times in the inning, with the final two runs, including the game-tying run, scored on a two-run home run by Lauren Homa ’07, her first hit of the day. This tied the game at 6-6 and forced extra innings. Homa continued her heroic role at the top of the ninth inning by driving in the winning run for a 7-6 victory, sending the Greyhounds into the winner’s bracket.They were the comeback kids of the tournament.

After the game, not only the Greyhound fans but also those at the World Series to cheer on other teams were describing Moravian as a team to watch. In fact, hearsports.com, which broadcast all 14 games of the series over the Internet (the games are archived at www.hearsports.com/softball), held an online poll for listeners to offer their choice for the national championship, and the Greyhounds led the poll all weekend with 27 percent of the vote.

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Left, Michelle McWilliams '06 at the plate.

Photo: Gary Brittan