Over the past two years the Central Lakes College softball team has had a knack for raising the bar of success.
At last year's NJCAA Division III national tournament the Raiders finished sixth, the best finish in program history. At this weekend's national tournament the Raiders raised the bar even higher as they placed second in the nation, losing to Monroe Community College 13-3 in Saturday's national title game in Rochester.
CLC beat Gloucester County College 2-1 in eight innings in the loser's bracket. Lindsey Jourdan and Megan Anderson were both named to the all-tournament team.
"Monroe has some pretty powerful hitters and we didn't hit like we normally do," Raiders coach Bob Sullivan said. "Monroe's one through nine hitters were all very good.
"Everything they hit was finding the grass and we needed to do the same thing and put the ball in play but Monroe did that more than we did. We had the bases loaded in the first inning with no outs and couldn't get any runs in. It just didn't work out for us in the championship game."
Jourdan led the Raiders at the plate going 3-for-3 while Alison LeBlanc was 2-4 and Ali Mathison was 2-3 with two runs scored. Izzy Anderson added a hit and a run and Kjelsy Loeffler drove in two runs.
"I knew it was my last hurrah," said Jourdan. "After our first practice down at Rochester I didn't really expect a whole lot but once we started playing nobody was willing to give up and we just kept riding the momentum."
Against Gloucester County the Raiders played error free ball and pounded out 11 hits. In the top of the eighth, Jourdan and Megan Anderson both singled. Mathison then followed with a single to score Jourdan and give CLC the lead. Gloucester County went quietly in the bottom of the eighth as the Raiders reached the title game.
"We didn't have time to get nervous in the game because it was a fast game," Sullivan said. "Both teams had chances to score and it was a good defensive game. It was a real back and forth type of game."
Megan Anderson finished with three hits and Jourdan was 2-4 with two runs scored. Mathison also added two hits and Malerie Riewer picked up the win on the mound for the Raiders.
The Raiders finish with a 31-14 overall record and it was the second time in program history that a CLC team has won 30-plus games.
"Every year we talk about taking a step to the next level and we did that this year," Sullivan said. "We're going to lose three solid individuals in Lindsay, Megan and Alison but the good news is that we should have one of the deepest returning teams we've ever had coming back.
"From a coaches standpoint it was fun to watch this team perform on the field. I've always said, I've never taken a team to nationals, the team has taken me. I've just guided them a little bit."
Alison LeBlanc played with a broken thumb
Sullivan also had a lot to say about LeBlanc, who was playing with a broken thumb and an injured ankle heading into the tournament. Then Thursday LeBlanc injured the thumb on her healthy hand.
"Having her out there on the field showed the team a lot of courage," Sullivan said. "She had two braces on her hands and you couldn't even see her fingers. Every time she gripped the bat and it hurt but she was still up there and getting hits. There was no let up in that girl and she was very inspiring."
But not playing wasn't an option for LeBlanc, who will have surgery on her thumb this week.
"If it came to the point where I couldn't walk or I was hurting the team I would've sat," LeBlanc said, "but I was going to give it my all and some how I was still able to bat.
"We just wanted to go out there and prove that we belonged. We wanted to show people that we could play with anybody and we did that."
NJCAA Div. III national softball
The key: CLC's Ali Mathison drove in Lindsay Jourdan to beat Gloucester County in extra innings and earn a spot in the national title game, which the Raiders lost 13-3 to Monroe College.
Overall: CLC finishes 31-14.
Monroe College 13 19 2
Central Lakes 3 9 2
WP: Jacyln Dean. LP: Ali Mathison. 2B: CLC-Malerie Riewer. RBI: CLC-Kjelsy Loeffler 2, Riewer.
Gloucester County 1 7 0
Central Lakes 2 11 0
WP: Malerie Riewer. LP: B. Hayes. 3B: CLC-Alison LeBlanc. RBI: CLC-Alison Mathison 2.
TROY GUNDERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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