Grand champions: Lady Buffs claim second D2 national championship behind clutch grand slam
The West Texas A&M Lady Buffs won their second NCAA Division II College World Series softball championship since 2014 defeating Biola, 4-1, on Tuesday at the Regency Athletic Complex in Denver, Colo. [Morgan Engel/ NCAA athletics]
The West Texas A&M softball team was able to cap off one of the most incredible runs in recent memory claiming their second NCAA Division II national championship since 2014 on Tuesday at the Regency Athletic Complex in Denver, Colo.
With one swing of the bat from Gabriella Valforte in the bottom of the sixth that will live in WT history for decades to come, the Lady Buffs downed Biola 4-1, winning the decisive game 3 at the College World Series bringing home the programs second national title.
“What a feeling,” said WT second-year head coach Mike Mook. “It was a super fun experience throughout the entire thing.”
WT’s hopes looked slim heading into the bottom of the sixth. Biola’s Kayla Neff drilled her third homer of the series on a solo shot to left field breaking a scoreless tie putting the Eagles up 1-0.
That looked to be more than enough for Biola’s dominant starting pitcher Paige Austin. Austin had blanked the Lady Buffs in Monday’s game 1, and had yet to yield a run in 31 straight innings. Austin had been rolling in game 3, however, ran into trouble to open the sixth giving up a single to WT captain Shanna McBroom. Austin then hit Erica Vessels, and walked Alyx Cordell to load the bases with one out.
After a meeting at the mound, Austin left a fastball over the middle to Valforte who jumped all over the first pitch sending it deep to center for the immaculate grand slam that turned the tide giving the Lady Buffs the 4-1 advantage they’d never relinquish.
“I had a calm had feeling things would work out,” Mook said. “I think their run was the motivation we needed. We got all three seniors on base, and I knew when Gabriella came up she’d come through. She’d put in the work and had been ready for this moment.”
Canyon graduate and WT sophomore pitcher Kyra Lair did the rest. Lair, who allowed one run, tossed a complete game getting Haley Martinez to groundout to Canyon connection and WT senior shortstop Cordell for the final out, as the celebration commenced.
Lair was the backbone throughout WT’s 5-1 mark through the CWS tossing a total of 24.2 innings with four wins.
“This is an amazing feeling,” Lair said. “I loved winning it with Alyx the most. We’d been playing together 13 years, and we always dreamed of this. This is just awesome and the one of the best things to happen in my life.”
The Lady Buffs (43-12) ended a stellar month that saw them win 21 of their final 23 games.
They claimed the Lone Star Conference tournament title as a No. 4-seed, stayed hot by taking the South Central Regional championship, then came into the Division II CWS as an underdog No. 6-seed. Being under the radar was the motto of the year for WT.
From a team that was unranked at the beginning of the year, to picked seventh in the LSC preseason poll, Mook says this was truly an unforgettable ride.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Mook said. “To start off pick seventh, not ranked. It shows the hard work and buy in factor this group has. I’m so proud and thankful and of this team. They are special”
For McBroom, this was the seniors 213th and final start in a Lady Buff uniform. The five-year starter and NFCA National Catcher of the Year finished 5-for-19 in the CWS with a homer, but nothing replaces the feeling of being called a champion.
“I honestly couldn’t ask for better way to go out,” said McBroom, who was named the LSC and South Central Regional Player of the Year, “We had a great energy going, and there was no way we were going to lose. It’s been a crazy ride but I couldn’t ask for anything better.”