Sunday, May 14, 2006
By Mike Ballard
CAMDEN - The third time was the charm.
After knocking on the door of the NCAA finals for two consecutive years, the Rutgers University-Camden softball team swept into the national finals here May 14. The top-seeded Lady Raptors rode the two-hit shutout pitching of senior All-American Michelle Schlichtig (Barrington, NJ/Haddon Heights) as they defeated second-seeded Rowan University, 5-0, to capture the NCAA East Regional.
With their victory, the Raptors become the first team in school history to advance to the NCAA finals. Rutgers-Camden, which barely missed the national finals when it finished as the regional runnerup in both 2004 and 2005, will begin play in the 2006 NCAA Division III Softball Championship Friday at 11 a.m. The Lady Raptors will face a familiar opponent in New Jersey Athletic Conference rival Ramapo College, which captured the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Salisbury, MD.
Rutgers-Camden and Ramapo have played five times this season, with the Raptors holding a 4-1 edge.
The Raptors had to outlast another NJAC foe in their regional final as Schlichtig out-dueled Rowan senior ace Colleen Oswald (Sewell, NJ/Washington Township) for the second time in the tournament. Schlichtig struck out four while hurling her third shutout of the regionals. In three regional games, she worked 21 shutout innings, allowing six hits and five walks while striking out 26.
Rutgers-Camden, which edged Rowan, 1-0, in Saturday's winners' bracket final, appeared headed for another one-run game on Sunday. The Lady Raptors finally broke the scoring ice against Oswald in the fifth inning when Schlichtig ripped a two-out double - her second two-bagger of the day - and scored on a double by sophomore first baseman Kathleen Dreitlein (Berkeley Heights, NJ/Governor Livingston).
The Lady Raptors put the game away in a four-run top of the seventh inning. With one out, junior right fielder Autumn Millett (Richwood, NJ/Clearview Regional) reached on an error in left field. Schlichtig followed with a single and Dreitlein walked to load the bases. Junior third baseman Megan Farrell (Medford, NJ/Bishop Eustace Prep) singled to left field driving home the second run of the game and junior catcher Mo Baney (Deptford, NJ/Deptford) was safe on a fielder's choice that plated another run and failed to retire a runner. Sophomore designated player Amber Parker (Pennsauken, NJ/Pennsauken) grounded out to bring home the third run of the inning and sophomore second baseman Jayme Feriod (Glassboro, NJ/Glassboro) capped the frame with an RBI single to center.
In addition to her pitching, Schlichtig went 8-for-9 (.889) during the regional with four doubles, one home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. She was 3-for-4 with two runs and two doubles in the championship game, while Feriod went 2-for-2 with two walks and one stolen base.
Rowan, which closed its season with a school-record 41 wins (41-7) received singles from sophomore second baseman Lauren Navarro (West Milford, NJ/West Milford) with two outs in the fifth inning - breaking up a perfect game by Schlichtig - and a leadoff single by senior center fielder Katie Lavin (Sewell, NJ/Washington Township) in the sixth.
Oswald, who finished with a 33-5 mark, allowed eight hits, three walks and five runs, only one earned. She struck out six. Three of her losses came in head-to-head duels with Schlichtig.
Rutgers-Camden, now 43-5, heads into the national finals having won 33 of its last 34 games, including four straight. The Raptors are ranked No. 3 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III poll, which was released May 10.