Amanda Hall knows she has not been the steadiest contributor in her first season at Pacific Lutheran University.
She transferred from Columbia Basin College in Pasco as the expected middle-of-the-lineup protection for Stacey Hagensen and Kaaren Hatlen – both Lutes All-Americans.
But Hall made up for it with one big swing Saturday, hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning to lift PLU past Northwest Conference rival Linfield, 5-3, in the NCAA Division III championship-bracket semifinals at the Moyer Complex in Salem, Va.
PLU (43-11), winner of 19 of its past 20 games, takes on Montclair State University of New Jersey (44-7) at 2 p.m. today for a title-game berth.
Nothing came easily Saturday for the Lutes, who were facing the defending national champions for an eighth time this season.
And in the third inning, four-time Linfield All-American Staci Doucette led off with a solo home run – the 72nd of her career – to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead.
The Lutes got very little going against Wildcats starting pitcher Karina Paavola, who retired 13 batters in a row at one point. And Linfield tacked on another run in the fifth inning for a 3-1 edge.
“We were really, really nervous, and not playing the way we are capable of playing,” PLU coach Erin Van Nostrand said. “Very scared.”
It all shifted in the sixth inning. PLU’s Glenelle Nitta got on base when she was hit by a pitch. And after Hagensen flied out for the second out, Hatlen worked an 11-pitch walk off Paavola, bringing up Hall.
She blasted a 1-1 pitch well over the left-field wall for a three-run homer.
“That … pitch, I had an idea she was going to go to the rise ball, because she showed that pattern of working up (in the zone),” Hall said. “It did not rise. I like higher pitches. And yeah, I had a good feeling when I hit it. It was really important to get back the lead.”
The Lutes added their final run in the seventh inning when pinch hitter Kylee Oshiro lined an RBI double to the right-center field fence, scoring Haley Harshaw.
The Wildcats got two runners on in their final at-bat, but Hagensen got Lindsey Matsunaga to ground out to end the game.
A win today, and Van Nostrand certainly likes her team’s chances of claiming its first NCAA softball title.
“You love this position,” Van Nostrand said. “Win one more game … and at some point, someone has to beat you twice. I like our chances. It is tough to beat us twice.”