Update: Toros advanced to the next round of the NCAA Div II National Championship series with a 5 to 1 win over UT Tyler.
For the first time in the program’s history, the Toro softball team are NCAA Division II West Region Champions. With their 3-1 win over top-seeded Cal State San Marcos in the NCAA Super Regional final, the Toros are among eight teams to advance to this week’s National Championship in Denver, Colo. They play the nation’s number one-ranked team, the University of Texas, Tyler (UT Tyler), in the first game of the tournament, Thursday, May 26, at 10 a.m. (PST).
“It’s our first time ever, so it means a heck of a lot,” said head coach Jim Maier, currently in his 17th year with the Toros. “We’ve been to four regional championships and never won until this past weekend. Very few teams ever have the opportunity to play for a national championship. It’s very special.”
The Toros were a long shot to make the championship tournament when the postseason started. They finished in fourth place in their conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), and only went 1-2 in the CCAA tournament.
Despite starting the Regional tournament as the lowest remaining seed in the nation, the Toros caught fire and won, which sent them on to the West Super Regionals. There, they played well enough to proceed to the one-game championship match against San Marcos.
The Toros’ upset win over the top-seeded Cougars was led by starting pitcher Alyssa “La La” Olague, who threw five innings while holding San Marcos to just one run. Ashley Wies came in to close out the win, tossing a pair of scoreless innings to seal the deal.
When the Toros clinched their spot in the national championship, Wies laughs, “The first thing I thought of was ‘We finished!’ It was a huge relief.” She says the pressure didn’t get to her. “As a pitcher, you get used to those situations. You’re expected to finish the games and execute your pitches. It’s my job to have my team’s back.”
Clutch hitting in the Super Regional final was provided by infielder Kaylee Hull, who doubled in the Toros’ third run. “Getting that hit felt amazing,” says Hull. “I told my teammates that this weekend’s all for them, especially the seniors. I just wanted to play my heart out, and seeing that pitch on the outside corner… I went with it, and it flew!”
First-year infielder Amara Labonog opened the scoring in the first inning, driving in the team’s first run. “It felt pretty cool to get such a big hit,” she says. “I’m really young, so this is all new for me. I’m just grasping this whole experience game by game.”
On Thursday, the Toros will immediately face a stern test, going up against the top-seeded UT Tyler Patriots. “It’s nice to know that UT Tyler is ranked first in the nation, and we get to face them first,” jokes Maier. “But seriously, we’re just going to go out there and play and see what happens. There’s not really a lot of advance scouting in softball, so we’ve just got to go out and play. If we’re good enough, then it’ll show.”
The team is eager for the chance to show what they’ve got on the national stage. “I’m excited,” says outfielder Katelyn Sturm. “I think this team is ready. I feel like our conference is the best conference in the nation, and I think we’ve played the best competition. We’re ready to roll!”
The CSUDH Toro softball team game against UT Tyler at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 26. Check the NCAA Div II National Championship game page for scores and updates.
Olague says that she and her teammates are ready for the bright lights of the national championship. “Some people get nervous with big crowds and pressure,” she says. “But I feel like this team thrives on that–and me too! We like the noise, and we enjoy that atmosphere of competing with everyone.”
“I’m excited to play UT Tyler,” she adds. “We come in as underdogs, so nobody expects anything from us. We’re just going to go in with our stuff, how we normally do it, play our normal game, and go in and hope for the best. We’re expecting to surprise some people!”