Nikki Conway's two-run home run capped a three-run fourth inning as top-seeded St. Thomas successfully started defense of its national title with a 5-2 win over Williams in the opening game of the 2005 NCAA Division III Softball Championship at the Walnut Creek Sports Complex in Raleigh, N.C.
Conway, who has been swinging a hot bat during the post-season, launched the two-run blast, her 10th of the season, in the fourth to cap a 2-for-3 afternoon at the plate that included two RBIs and two runs scored.
"Nikki had high expectations for herself coming into the season," Tommies' head coach John Tschida said. "She had somewhat of a down offensive year, and I talked to her before the post-season and told her to stay with it. She's really hit the ball well since then."
Carrie Embree kicked the decisive inning off with a single to first base. After stealing second, Embree scored on Mandy Evans' double to center. With two away, Conway put the Tommies up 5-0 with the two-run round-tripper.
The five runs would prove to be enough for the St. Thomas pitchers as Janet Nagle and freshman Maria Bye combined to limit the Ephs to a pair of unearned runs on two hits. Nagle picked up the win as she gave up a run while not allowing a hit in four and two-thirds innings of work. Bye worked the final two and a third, giving up a run and both Williams hits.
"I thought we played below par. We made about 10 mistakes mentally which very well could have cost us," Tschida said. "We had some big hits. Janet Nagle threw well enough to win, but it was not her best."
St. Thomas jumped on top 2-0 in the third inning as Colleen Fitzpatrick led off with a double and Conway reached with a single. Louisville Slugger/NFCA First-Team All-American Michelle Wong and second-team all-American Kristi Huegel scored Fitzpatrick and Conway on a groundout and single, respectively.
Williams put up a run in the fifth as Katelyn Knox was hit by a pitch and later scored on a wild pitch. The Ephs added another in the sixth as Alana Frost scored on a fielding error.
"I think the name of the game was they were able to take advantage of our mistakes and they hit the ball well," Kris Herman said. "I was happy we stayed in the game down 5-0 because we could have folded. I thought we made both pitchers throw a lot of pitches. We didn't hit the ball the way we needed to, and we left some runners on and made some base-running mistakes. That's the name of the game when you're playing the best."
The Tommies will face the winner of Friday's game two contest between fourth-seed Salisbury and fifth-seed Alma Saturday at 4 p.m. Williams will face the loser of that contest in Saturday's first elimination game at 11 a.m.