COLUMBUS, Ga.--North Dakota State University shortstop Nikki Flynn-Gregg has plenty of individual NCAA records, but now she has a national championship trophy to go with it.
"This is definitely the cake," said a wide-smiling Flynn-Gregg after NDSU defeated Kennesaw State 3-1 to win the 2000 NCAA Division II softball championship on Sunday, May 21, before a crowd of 247 at South Commons Stadium.
"The rest I look at as frosting on the cake." Flynn-Gregg will be handing out plenty of cake as the Bison softball program claimed their first national title in three NCAA tournament appearances.
"The big key for us was to go out and have fun, and play relaxed. These kids know how to play softball," said NDSU head coach Mitch Hanson, who took over a program that went 4-32 in 1995.
"This is a very special moment. We've been adding together the pieces over the past six years. You have to give credit to the kids, you have to give credit to Darren Mueller, who works with out hitters, and Mike (McLeod), who works with our pitchers. This is real family deal."
North Dakota State, which went 5-0 over the four-day tourney, closed the deal like it started -- aggressive and opportunistic. This time the opportunity presented itself on defense when freshman centerfielder Jess Christensen chased down Christine Hochdorfer's blast to left center before hitting the portable fence for the third out in the first inning.
Hochdorfer hit a tape-measure shot in Friday's loss to NDSU.
"I was determined to get to the ball. I knew it was going to be a close game. I had to do whatever it took to get to the ball," said Christensen, who led the Bison with two singles.
The catch deflated the Owls (56-8), who won back-to-back NCAA titles in 1995 and 1996.
"It was a game of inches. The girl (Christensen) made a great play to keep (Christine) Hochdorfer's home run in the ballpark," said KSU head coach Scott Whitlock.
"I want to congratulate North Dakota State. They have a class program. We lost to a deserving champion. I am proud of my club. We have too much to be proud for."
The Bison used the emotional lift from Christensen's catch in the bottom of the frame, taking advantage of two Kennesaw State errors and Michelle Wiest's two-run double to left center.
It was the fifth straight game NDSU struck first with Flynn-Gregg in the middle of it. She reached base and scored in the opening frame for the fourth time in five games at the tourney.
The Owls cut the deficit to 3-1 in the second using a Nikki Scholer double and fielder's choice to push across the run.
The scoring was surprisingly done after that, unlike the night before when the teams combined for 15 runs and 27 hits.
"I would have lost every dime I had if I had thought all the scoring would have been done in the first two innings," said Whitlock.
Julie Fromm shut down Kennesaw State after that, allowing just a two-out single to Nikole Blue in the fifth. Fromm retired the last seven batters in a row. She recorded four of her six strikeouts during that span – including the final two batters.
Fromm tossed a two-hitter and allowed just two walks to improve to 45-6. She recorded four wins at the NCAA tournament.
KSU's Lacey Gardner (33-6) overcame the rough start. After giving up two hits in the first, Gardner just surrendered three two-out singles to Flynn-Gregg in the second, Fromm in the fourth and Christensen in the seventh.
Fromm, Wiest, Flynn-Gregg and Gerice Olson were named to the all-tourney team.
North Dakota State 3, Kennesaw State 1
KSU 010 000 0 -- 1-2-2
NDSU 300 000 0 -- 3-5-0
Lacey Gardner and Audra Thomas; Julie Fromm and Shelly Rhein.
WP--Fromm (45-6). LP--Gardner (33-6).