The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 17, 2013

Softball team built success on pitching, solid defense

By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor

— Anyone who questions the caliber of the pitching and defense on Missouri Southern’s 1992 softball national championship team, check the scores.

More than half of the Lions’ 50 victories — 26, to be exact — were shutouts. Plus, they allowed only one run in 11 more victories.

In three games at the national tournament in Shawnee, Kan., Lions pitcher Andrea Clarke (31-2 for the season) gave up a total of one run, 15 hits, one walk.

The defense did not commit an error, and the Lions turned double plays in the final two innings of the championship game.

“Pretty much the whole time I coached, when we got to the ball park, I wanted to win 1-0,” former Lions coach Pat Lipira said. “That was all we wanted to do ... score a run, and they can’t win if they don’t score.”

“Pitching and defense all the way,” said Leah Ingram, the right fielder on that team. “Overall the feeling was if you could hold somebody with good defense and they can’t score, you can bunt somebody over and someone will hit a long ball and score that run.”

Oh, the Lions could hit, too. They scored 25 runs in four games while winning the MIAA Tournament, 16 runs in three regional tournament games and 10 runs in the final three games.

“Overall we seemed to be really strong in every area,” Ingram said. “Offensively, defensively, pitching, we were very strong. We had no weak spot anywhere on the field or on the bench for that matter. We had several on the bench who didn’t get to play much because there’s not room for everyone, but when they got an opportunity, they stepped up.”

The Lions’ national championship team, along with Tom Rutledge, Terry Wilson and the TAMKO Roofers basketball team, will be inducted tonight into the Joplin Area Sports Hall of Fame.

The Lions finished 50-7 in 1992. Three of the seven losses came against Northeastern State, but ironically, the Lions’ season-ending 11-game winning streak began with a 3-2 decision over NSU.

The Lions encountered little difficulty in the conference tournament, winning four games by a combined 25-2 margin. The Lions were the host for the regional tournament, and they downed Nebraska-Omaha 6-1 in the first game,

But in the winners’ bracket final, the Lions trailed defending national champion Augustana 2-1 after six innings. Ingram misplayed a ball into a triple in the bottom of the sixth, leading to Augustana’s runs.

“I felt horrible because I had let the team down,” Ingram said. “I felt guilty. When I came to bat in the seventh, I felt here’s my one opportunity to go up and do the best I can to get my team back in it.”

With one out in the Lions’ seventh, Ingram bounced a ground-rule double over the left-field fence. Renee Weih then singled to center to score pinch runner Jaki Skaggs with the tying run. Carrie Carter followed with a run-scoring single, and Sharla Snow’s flyball fell in shallow left field for another run. After Cindy Cole Murguia singled, Stacy Harter’s double scored two runs, and Katrina Marshall capped the spree with another double.

A 3-1 decision over Augustana the next day gave the Lions their second regional title in the three years since joining the NCAA ranks.

Ingram then delivered the first big hit for the Lions in the national tournament. Nicknamed “Rope,” she roped a bases-loaded double to highlight a four-run first inning en route to an 8-1 victory over Saginaw Valley. Clarke lost her shutout bid with two outs in the last inning, but the Lions became the first MIAA team to ever win a Final Four game.

Next came two Lipira-type games — 1-0 victories over Bloomsburg in the winners’ bracket final and Cal State-Hayward in the championship game.

Krissy Konkol’s single with two outs in the seventh inning scored the only run against Bloomsburg.

Pinch-hitter Dana Presley’s single in the fifth inning plated the lone run against Hayward. Second baseman Murguia turned a line drive into a double play in the sixth inning, and shortstop Marshall fielded a grounder near second base to start a game-ending double play in the seventh.

“I grabbed the fence (in front of the dugout) and yelled ‘turn it, turn it’ and the whole time I was climbing,” Lipira said. “It was the rarity of having a year where you have it all — pitching,  defense, a speedy person leading off and getting on, then bunting her over ... great power hitters. It was a great mix.”

The MIAA was the national tournament host, and MSSU athletics director Sallie Beard was the tournament chairperson.

“What made this tournament great was having an MIAA team in it,” Beard said after the final game. “What made this tournament unbelievable was it was our team.”