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Spartans make history, claim first HCAC title

DEFIANCE, OHIO – Behind a pair of hard-nosed pitching performances from sophomores Maureen Lund (Huntington, Ind.) and Ashlea Nash (Gas City, Ind.), Manchester University made history at the Defiance High School softball field Monday, April 29.

The Spartans' 5-2, 6-4 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference wins over Defiance College helped MU clinch its first-ever HCAC title and the program's first conference regular season championship since 1992. Moving to 19-13 overall and ending conference play at 11-3, the Black and Gold also locked up the opportunity to host this weekend's HCAC postseason tournament.

"Ashlea and Maureen did what they needed to do, and the defense behind them made some important plays," Coach Tracy Cromer said. "The offense also came up and played its part when it needed to. Those things all added together for us to get the sweep.

"This conference championship is a reflection of the players we have," she added. "They've worked hard and bought in to what we've been trying to do."

The host Yellowjackets made it anything but easy for their guests. Defiance plated single runs in the first and fourth frames of the opener, while starting pitcher Alli Rowland didn't surrender a hit until freshman catcher Kalie Niezgodski (South Bend, Ind.) singled up the middle in the fifth. The Spartans finally broke through on Rowland an inning later, taking advantage of three DC errors to go along with an RBI single from sophomore shortstop Emily Willmann (Montpelier, Ind.) and a two-run single from sophomore outfielder Shannon Stephan (Granger, Ind.), for a five-run sixth.

Lund, who battled through leaving seven Yellowjacket baserunners left on during the first five innings, shut the door in the final two frames. She was aided by a key double play that junior third baseman Kylie Planck (Valparaiso, Ind.) caught off a line drive by Tori Plummer in the sixth. Improving to 11-4 overall, she struck out four en route to her 13th complete game.

Game two was just as nip-and-tuck.

 MU broke up a scoreless tie in the third when Planck singled in Stephan who had reached on an error earlier. The Spartans added another run in the fourth off the bat of freshman second baseman Jessica Chorak (Hammond, Ind.) who singled home Willmann. DC cut the lead to 2-1 in their half of the fourth, but the Black and Gold answered with four in the fifth, highlighted by Stephan's second two-run single of the afternoon. Defiance nicked the visitor's pitching staff for three in the seventh, but Nash, closing out her eighth win of the year, picked up her fifth strikeout of the game with the tying run at the plate to ice the conference title.

"We've been fortunate to have so many different players step up and contribute during games this season," Cromer said. "It was no different today. That's been one of our strengths and one of the keys to our success."

 Manchester University closes the 2013 regular season Wednesday, May 1, when in-state rival DePauw visits Spartan Field for a 3:30 p.m. doubleheader. The 2013 HCAC tournament starts at MU Friday, May 3.