OKLAHOMA CITY - Completing a four-game sweep of the Region II Tournament, Northeastern A&M's ninth-ranked Lady Norse defeated Connors State College 4-2 Sunday afternoon in the championship game at the Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium.
With the victory coach Eric Iverson's Lady Norse earned a berth in the Division I National Junior College Athletic Association national championship scheduled to begin May 17 at Plant City Stadium in Plant City, Fla.
“This wasn't a pretty game in terms of execution, Iverson said. “But, the end result is the most beautiful feeling in the world.
“These girls left everything they had out on that field, Iverson said. “Even though we came in the number one seed, I knew we were going to have to beat some very good teams like (Seminole State) and Connors and they did.
While winning their second Region II championship during Iverson's 11-year tenure as head coach, the Lady Norse travel to Florida with a 50-5 overall record. Iverson guided NEO to a third place finish in the 2000 tournament and a 50-9 overall record.
Coach Rick Carbone's Connors State Cowgirls finish 27-50 on the year.
The Cowgirls earned a berth in the title game with a 9-4 victory over second seed Seminole State College earlier Sunday afternoon.
“Give Connors some credit, Iverson said. “They played hard the entire tournament and defeated a team that had won over 55 games to get to this point.
After two scoreless innings, the Cowgirls grabbed their only lead of the game with a run in the top of the third inning.
Kayla Cheatham singled to start the inning. Kristi Goins reached on a fielding error by Maria Bernal at third base. Marissa Frisby singled to center to lead the bases. Amanda Tanner grounded into a fielder's choice as Goins scored.
“There were a couple of plays that we should have made, but didn't, Iverson said. “But, they only looked routine compared against the pressure of the situations.
Responding in the bottom of the third inning, the Lady Norse scored four runs on four hits that included a very “bizarre play.
A single by Tia Reich and a double by Shareena Pulse along with a walk by Shea Peterson loaded the bases for NEO. After Becca Carden popped out to second base, Marie Audette lined a single to center scoring both Reich and Pulse.
Following a pop fly to center by Bernal, Leslie Hobbs walked. With two outs, Erin Eddy lofted a high pop fly in between Connors pitcher Crystal Adair, catcher Cody Slaughter and third baseman Kayla Cheatham.
Because of a brisk 30-mile-per-hour southerly breeze, each Connors player thought the other was going to make the catch. None did and both Audette and Hobbs scored to create a 4-1 Lady Norse lead.
Connors scored their final run in the top of the fifth inning. Goins singled to start the inning. After a sacrifice bunt by Frisby, Tanner singled to right scoring Goins.
Pulse paced the eight-hit Lady Norse offense with two doubles while Peterson, Bernal, Reich, Audette, Eddy and Handley added singles.
“When we didn't score in the first couple of innings, I knew it would only be a matter of time, Iverson said. “We were only shut out once all season, so I knew we would put some runs on the board.
Handley allowed two runs on six hits to raise her record to 27-2 on the season. She walked one while recording eight strikeouts.
“Candace is a real competitor, Iverson said. “She gave us four strong games during the tournament and has been our go-to girl all year.
NEO advanced to the championship game with a 4-0 shutout over Seminole State in the winner's bracket finals Saturday afternoon. Handley shut out the Lady Trojans on only four hits while striking out three and walking none.
The Lady Norse scored a run in the bottom of the second inning after two were out. Bernal reached on an error to start the rally. Hobbs reached on a throwing error by Seminole pitcher Lacey Lang allowing Bernal to score all the way from first.
Handley singled and Pulse walked to start the NEO third inning. Peterson followed with a RBI single to give NEO a 2-0 margin.
A single by Handley and a two-base throwing error by Richelle Rhodes on a ball hit by Pulse increased the Lady Norse lead to 3-0 in the fifth inning.
NEO's final run came in the sixth on a single by Eddy, a walk to Handley and a sacrifice fly by Pulse.
Handley collected two of the five Lady Norse hits.
A three-run home run by Pulse and three hits by Reich propelled the Lady Norse to a 9-3 victory over Carl Albert State College Friday night. Pulse also contributed a double and single as the Lady Norse scored nine runs on 12 hits. Hobbs and Handley added two singles each.
Handley limited Carl Albert to three runs on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks.
Opening the tournament at noon on Friday, the Lady Norse cruised to a 12-3 victory in five innings over Rose State College.
A grand slam home run by Hobbs along with a three-run homer by Bernal and a leadoff home run by Handley ignited the nine-hit Lady Norse offense.
Handley pitched the first three innings before Emily Harp allowed three runs on four hits in the final two frames.