The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Missouri Southern Sports

April 6, 2012

MSSU to honor 1992 national championship softball team

After back-to-back 36-win seasons, nobody knew for sure how good the 1992 Missouri Southern softball team could be.

Heck, for one four-day stretch in the season, there was a problem with team identity.

“We went on a spring break trip down to Florida,” Lions coach Pat Lipira said. “We won seven of eight games, and the people down there were like who is this team? Who are these people? It was so funny because I heard people say, ‘That’s Mississippi Southern, that’s Mississippi Southern.’ We got tickled by that.

“On the way home, I looked at Dee (Gerlach, assistant coach) and asked do you think we’re that good. It was almost like the entire season, we kept questioning, is this team really good? I think finally, when we won the national championship, I thought you know, we’re pretty good. It kind of took us all season to figure out this is a pretty special team.”

The Lions completed a 50-7 season with a 1-0 victory over Cal State-Hayward in the national championship game in Shawnee, Kan.

“It wasn’t like when the season started, I thought this team was going to do it,” said Lipira, who compiled a 632-275 record as the Lions’ coach from 1982-2000. “I kept thinking wow, we just beat a pretty good team. It was special obviously ... memories we’ll never forget. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. Twenty years?”

The national championship team and other Lion softball alumni will be recognized this weekend when Missouri Southern concludes its home MIAA schedule with games against Emporia State at 1 p.m. today and Missouri Western at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The Lion seniors will be recognized before the start of Saturday’s first game, and the softball alums will be introduced between games on Saturday.

That 1992 team was the total package — hitting, pitching and defense. Of the Lions’ 50 victories, 26 were shutouts.

“My focus as a coach was on pitching and defense,” Lipira said. “We didn’t have to have a lot of offense when you had the pitching and defense produce. We could figure out how to score a run.

“It’s changed now. I couldn’t coach now. With the bats in the offense and all the home runs ... people are getting more home runs in a day than we would get in a season. It’s unreal to me. I like the 1-0, 2-1 games, the pitcher’s duel when you tried to get a runner from first to second or second to third. Now you just get up and swing away.”

Sophomore pitcher Andrea Clarke went 31-2 that season, and she came within one out of pitching three shutouts in the national tournament. Saginaw Valley State scored a run with two outs in the seventh inning of an 8-1 loss in the first round, and the Lions beat Bloomsburg and Cal State-Hayward by 1-0 scores in the last two games.

“Andrea had a drop ball, one of the best drop balls I’ve ever seen,” Lipira said. “If you have a drop ball pitcher and a great infield, you’re going to win, and that’s what we had.

The infield had Stacy Harter at first base, Cindy Cole at second, Katrina Marshall at shortstop and Sharla Snow at third. In the outfield were Krissy Konkol in left, Carrie Carter in center and Leah Ingram in right.

Clarke and catcher Diane Miller were both second team All-America selections, and Renee Weih was the designated player.

There were also contributions off the bench, none bigger than Dana Presley’s pinch-hit single that drove in the only run of the national championship game.

The offense averaged 6.3 runs and hit .370 as a team as the Lions rolled to the MIAA Postseason Tournament championship, also in Shawnee, Kan. They averaged 5.3 runs and hit .266 in winning three Midwest Regional games at home, but that title didn’t come without some last-inning excitement.

The Lions had just three hits and trailed defending national champion Augustana (S.D.) 2-1 with one out in the seventh inning of the winners’ bracket final. But the Lions erupted for six runs and a 7-3 victory, and they beat Augustana again 3-1 the next day in the championship game and celebrated with their home fans.

“I was so thankful for the way the community supported us,” Lipira said. “We had people everywhere up there. We gave them a product. It was exciting ... they were aggressive on the bases, they made that diving play, it was fun to watch.”

On June 7 the national championship team will be inducted into the MIAA Hall of Fame in Kansas City.

“I hope to get as many players as I can to Kansas City,” Lipira said, “and not just them but also their parents. We were a big family, and I’d love to see them all.”

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