Despite a tremendous run in the national tournament and a gritty three game effort on the final day, the No. 6-ranked Salt Lake Community College softball team (53-11) finished the season as the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Runner-Up for the third straight year.
The Bruins came into the 2013 season with high expectations and were ranked No. 1 in preseason national polls after finishing the 2012 season with a 59-9 record and coming within one out of being national champions.
2012 NJCAA First Team All-American’s pitcher MaCauley Flint and outfielder Malia Campos powered the Bruins during the regular season where they finished in second place to their Scenic West Athletic Conference (SWAC) rivals College of Southern Idaho (CSI).
“When we lost the regular season to CSI, it was like a punch in the gut,” says SLCC head coach Mary Kay Amicone.
The second place finish meant the Bruins would have to win the Region 18 Championship on the road in Twin Falls, Idaho for the right to advance to the NJCAA National Tournament.
“When we ended up not winning the regular season, our motivation took over, and we were not going to be denied,” says Amicone. The Bruins entered the regional tournament as a second seed and avenged losing the regular season title by beating rival CSI for their fifth consecutive Region 18 Championship.
“Being able to win regionals on the road for the right to go to nationals is quite an accomplishment,” says Amicone. “We used that momentum to go into nationals and play at a high level.”
The Bruins powered through the first three rounds of the NJCAA National Tournament with blowout wins over Georgia Perimeter, Weatherford College, and Chipola College before falling to Wallace State 8-1.
With that loss the Bruins headed into the final day of the tournament needing to win three games, including back to back contests against Wallace State, to win the national title.
“When you lose a game like that, there is not a lot of time to focus on what went wrong, you have to focus on what went right,” says Amicone, “What’s right is that we can go in and win one game at a time until we are national champions.”
In the first game of the final day of the tournament, the Bruins had plenty of time to focus on both as they engaged in a brutal, twelve inning marathon against Pima College. The tightly c
ontested, back and forth game ended in an 8-5 win for the Bruins thanks to a heroic complete game effort by Flint and a game deciding inside the park grand slam by Campos.
“Malia (Campos) hitting that grand slam was an awesome thing to have happen,” says Amicone. “We would not be denied a chance to win the championship.”
However, in order to win the championship, the Bruins would have to beat Wallace State twice in a row on the heels of an exhausting twelve inning game.
Led by the surprise pitching performance of freshman Kailey Christensen, the Bruins dominated Wallace State with a 8-0 win behind a two-run home run by sophomore Whitney Holt.
With the victory, the Bruins earned another matchup with Wallace State for the national championship.
Fatigue finally caught up with the Bruins in their final game of the season as they took a 2-2 tie into the seventh only to have Wallace State explode for five runs sending the Bruins championship aspirations up in smoke.
Despite the heartbreaking loss the season was still a success as the Bruins battled for the championship into the final inning for the second straight year.
“I told the team how proud I was of them and the character they showed all year,” says Amicone, “Their uniforms were drenched with blood, dirt, and grass stains. They had given all I asked of them and left everything on the field. I was proud of how they represented our institution and the way they represented themselves.”
The Bruins will head into the 2014 season without the services of Flint, who was named a member of the 2013 NJCAA First Team All-American, and Malia Campos, who was named a 2013 NJCAA Second Team All-American. The Bruins will also be without sophomore infielder Maddy Woodard who joined Campos as a 2013 NJCAA Second Team All-American.
“This was a really talented sophomore class. We had speed, we had power, we had pitching, we had it all,” says Amicone. “It will be hard to replace this team but we have a great class signed up for next year. Our program is built on depth and tradition, and we recruit the type of kids that plan on winning.”