ST. PAUL, Minn. – The University of St. Thomas softball team rallied back from a 6-4 fourth-inning deficit on Sunday to score 11 runs in the next three frames, defeating No. 2 seed Saint Benedict, 15-6, and claiming the program's 13th Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Playoff Championship in the 15-year history of the tournament. The Playoff title is the first for St. Thomas since 2016 and secures an automatic qualifier to the 2018 NCAA Division III Softball Tournament.
While the 2018 MIAC Softball Playoffs began with a no-hitter and a pair of 1-0 pitching duels, Sunday's title game was a hit parade, highlighted by a trio of momentum-swinging home runs. The nation's No. 7-ranked team got on the board first, as St. Thomas scored three runs in the home half of the first inning. Sophomore Elise Barnes crossed the plate first – and often – finishing the game with four runs scored and another four batted in, including the game-ending three-run walkoff home run in the sixth. Barnes ended up 7-for-11 with seven RBI, six runs scored, a pair of doubles and a walk in three MIAC Playoff games.
Six different Tommies batted in multiple runs in Sunday's win, while five managed extra-base hits. Despite the gaudy offensive stats, victory did not seem imminent midway through the contest, however, as a five-run fourth-inning by No. 13-ranked Saint Benedict put UST in unfamiliar territory. Two singles and a walk placed shortstop Sara Wennerstrand at the plate with one out and the bases loaded. The CSB senior delivered with a two-RBI single, which was followed up by a Karlee Pfaff sacrifice fly to tie the game at 4. That set the stage for infielder Claire Boatman to blast a two-run home run, giving Saint Ben's its first lead of the contest.
St. Thomas buckled down from there, scoring four runs in the fourth inning, four in the fifth and three in the sixth to earn a hard-fought victory. Pitcher Hayley Dunning was awarded her third win of the weekend, while Sammy Hogan contributed two scoreless innings for the save. Barnes belted the Tommies' lone home run of the game, while Boatman and Olivia Olson each sent balls over the fence for Saint Ben's.
Following the game, St. Thomas was presented with the MIAC Softball Playoff Championship plaque. The Tommies also received the Conference's automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Division III Softball Tournament. All eyes now turn to Monday's bracket announcement, as regionally-ranked Saint Benedict and St. Catherine each have a chance to receive at-large bids to the "Big Dance." CSB ranks second behind the Tommies in the latest NCAA Midwest Region Rankings, while St. Kate's is right in the thick of it at No. 6. The NCAA Tournament field will be announced Monday at noon via a live online selection show on NCAA.com.
MIAC SOFTBALL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
LOCATION: University of St. Thomas | South Field | St. Paul, Minn.
(No. 1 seed St. Thomas will host entire double-elimination round; Thursday play-in games will be hosted by the high seed)
Thursday, May 3, 2018
Game 1: No. 3 St. Catherine 1, No. 6 Carleton 0 | Box Score | Recap |
Game 2: No. 5 St. Olaf 1, No. 4 Augsburg 0 | Box Score | Recap |
*Winners advance to four-team double-elimination tournament
Friday, May 4, 2018
Game 3: No. 1 St. Thomas 6, No. 5 St. Olaf 0 | Box Score | Recap | Photos |
Game 4: No. 3 St. Catherine 4, No. 2 Saint Benedict 2 | Box Score | Recap | Photos |
Saturday, May 5, 2018
Game 5: No. 1 St. Thomas 3, No. 3 St. Catherine 1 | Box Score | Recap | Photos |
Game 6: No. 2 Saint Benedict 5, No. 5 St. Olaf 4 (9 innings) | Box Score | Recap | Photos |
Game 7: No. 2 Saint Benedict 8, No. 3 St. Catherine 2 | Box Score | Recap |
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Game 8: No. 1 St. Thomas 15, No. 2 Saint Benedict 6 | Box Score | Recap | Photos |
All Playoff information including seedings, scores and recaps can be found on the 2018 MIAC Softball Playoffs. Fans can also follow the action on the MIAC Scoreboard, on the free MIAC mobile app, and on social media through the MIAC's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.