Fond memories of a storybook season

by Sandy Gholston
Pioneer Sports Writer

Pitcher Nadine Crowl fields a pop-up while being assisted by third baseman Cathy Boichot

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- For everyone involved, the 1998 Ferris State softball season will certainly be one to reflect upon with fond memories.

"I've asked them to do so much," Ferris State head coach Keri Becker said after the final season loss to Barry University.

For those who followed the Bulldogs softball team, 1998 provided much to be proud of and remember.

That was certainly the way Becker felt. "I can't express how proud I am of them," she said.

It is about more than the numerous records the Bulldogs claimed.

It is about more than the team moving farther in the post-season than ever before.

More even than the numerous individual accolades and achievements players were able to enjoy.

For many fans, the answer is -- all of the above.

Ferris State concluded the season with a school-record 44-wins versus 16 defeats. As they entered the season, the Bulldogs had one goal of winning a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.

Ferris State ended their GLIAC season with a second place finish in the regular season and then in the post-season conference tournament held in Allendale.

Instead of allowing themselves to become distracted by what could have been, the Bulldogs instead decided to focus on what could be by the end of the season.

That was Ferris State's approach.

That approach paid dividends.

The Bulldogs charged into the Great Lakes Regional tournament as an at-large selection and left with a championship run which earned the respect from every one of their fans right through to the Ashland players they defeated in the tournament final.

Then came the big one.

The NCAA Division II Softball Championships.

The World Series of college softball some call it.

No matter what anyone calls the event, the players and the fans understand the magnitude of the competition as well as the atmosphere they were set to participate in from May 14-18.

At this tournament, everyone is a champion. The Bulldogs were champions of the Great Lakes Region, Merrimack College was champions of the Northeast Region, the University of Nebraska-Kearney was champions of the South Central Region, Barry, was champions of the South Region, California University of Pa. was champions of the Mid-Atlantic Region, Augstana College was champions of the North Central Region, California University-Bakersfield was champions of the West Region and Coker College finished as South Atlantic Region champions.

A lot of champions, eight to be exact and quite a bit of talent to be sure.

The Bulldogs understood they would have their work cut out for them from start to finish if they expected to claim a championship.

All of which takes us to day one of Ferris' title run.

Ferris State 4, Merrimack 0

Nerves are to be expected on day one of a championship tournament and this one proved to be little different.

Someone neglected to tell Ferris State they were supposed to be nervous for their World Series opener.

Ferris State turned in their usual solid workman-like effort in defeating the Warriors in the first game of the double elimination tournament.

Defensively, the Bulldogs were solid in the field. They were aided by a typically solid performance from pitcher Nadine Crowl, who stifled the Merrimack hitters from start to finish in gaining a shutout win. Crowl pitched a complete seven innings, allowed no runs and only three hits as Ferris State advanced in the winners bracket of the tournament.

"As long as we get consistent play on defense," Becker said. "We're going to be all right."

Ferris State's offense was led by the bat of senior catcher Shawn Martinez, who exploded out of the gates to begin the tournament with a three-hit performance. Martinez also knocked in a pair of Bulldog runs on day one of the tournament.

With game one over and done with, the team had the opportunity to spend a little time under the sun at Pensacola Beach.

Still, with the new day comes new challenges.

Barry 4, Ferris State 2

The Bulldogs were hurt by some of their own mistakes. Where the defense and solid pitching had carried the team throughout the season. On day two of the tournament, the defense came up a little short.

The Buccaneers were able to capitalize on the Ferris State miscues and convert them into runs. Barry starter Stephanie Caldwell and Crowl went pitch for pitch through much of the game, but for Ferris State, it was not quite enough to claim a win.

For Barry, it was an advancement through the winners bracket, For Ferris State it was into the losers' bracket with no more room for error if a championship was to be in their future.

Ferris State 5, Calif. St-Bakersfield 3

Ferris State responded like champions after a bitter defeat the afternoon prior.

Still, the win came with some nervous moments for Ferris State.

Bakersfield actually led the game 3-1 as they prepared for the Bulldogs last stand in the top of the seventh inning. Roadrunners' starter Melanie Wood was in the midst of a solid performance, but for the top of the seventh, Bakersfield decided to switch pitchers. They brought in reliever Felena Puentes, who ran into all kinds of trouble.

Ferris State quickly loaded the bases and eventually forced Bakersfield to bring Wood back into the game, but by then, it was too little too late. The Bulldogs went on to score four runs in the top of the seventh to seal the win.

Senior shortstop Sarah Guzal went 2-for-4 from the plate. Crowl and sophomore third baseman Cathy Boichot also had two hits each for Ferris State. Right fielder Amber Howe boosted her consecutive game hitting streak to seven games against the Roadrunners.

Bakersfield went scoreless in the bottom of the seventh and the Bulldogs lived to fight another day.

Ferris State 4, California Pa. 3

It was an eight inning marathon, but when everything was said and done it was Ferris State which celebrated a win against the last team in the tournament to record a loss.

Ferris State was also the only team to beat Cal Pa, the eventual NCAA champions.

Crowl and second baseman Anne Koltvedt led the Ferris State offense with two hits apiece. Boichot and junior centerfielder Casey Munger each had a hit as did Howe, who extended her hit streak to eight games.

Ferris State actually trailed 2-0 early in the game, but never lost their confidence.

"There is something about the aura of this team," Becker said. "I felt confident."

The Bulldogs managed seven hits against Cal's ace hurler Danielle Penner. Cal pounded out 12 hits against Crowl, but managed only three runs in the defeat. Crowl boosted her record on the season to 23-11. She had already become the first 20-game winner in school history and continued to add to her total. Penner fell to 45-4 on the season.

Barry 6, Ferris State 5

A tough way to end the exciting roller coaster ride which was the 1998 softball season.

The Bulldogs season became unraveled as the result of a devastating five-error top of the third inning against the Buccaneers. Barry more than capitalized as they placed six runs on the board and had the Bulldogs fighting an uphill battle for the remainder of the game.

Still, Ferris never quit.

They fought back into the game with a run here and a run there, but even left fielder Jody Gifford's solo home run in the seventh inning was less than enough to allow Ferris State to pull out the win and keep their season.

It was a difficult way to fall for a team which had been so sound defensively during much of their season.

Despite the loss, Ferris State had much to feel proud of with the third-place finish in a tournament which began with the top 32 teams in the nation.

Ferris State will say good bye to seniors Guzal and Martinez, players who have given so much to the program, but they have more than enough talent to make another run at the national championship.