COLLEGE SOFTBALL - Linfield wins the Division III softball crown with an NCAA record 51 wins
For Jaydee Baxter the day ended without a hit, but still she was the first player into the dog pile to celebrate Linfield's 6-2 win over Christopher-Newport in the NCAA Division III softball championships Monday afternoon.
'She's definitely one of our emotional leaders,' Linfield coach Jackson Vaughan said. 'She has a real love for the game and is a true team player.'
Baxter knew the heartbreak of losing the big game after seeing the Wildcats give up two runs in the seventh inning and fall 5-4 to East Texas Baptist in last year's finale. This year, it was Linfield with the late rally, breaking a 2-2 deadlock with four runs in the sixth inning.
'It still doesn't fell real,' Baxter said. 'It's an incredible thing to be able to say you're the best in the country. We had to battle for it, it didn't just fall in our laps.'
Baxter, the team's starting center fielder, fell into an 0-for-4 slump in the title game, but was instrumental in leading the Wildcats through the playoffs. She hit 9 for 22 (.409) with nine RBIs and six runs scored in the team's first six games at Nationals. She was one of five Wildcats to be named to the all-tournament team.
The highlight came in Sunday's semifinals where she connected for two home runs in a 12-1 blowout over SUNY-Cortland.
The Wildcats had the challenge of conquering the Texas jinx earlier in the tournament. After falling to East Texas Baptist last year, Linfield was put on the brink of elimination with a surprising 4-0 second-round loss to Texas-Tyler this year.
'It was a little bit defeating, but I had no doubts that we would battle back through,' Baxter said. 'Once you fall into that loser's bracket, you know you need to come out and fight and play your best game.'
Linfield faced a rematch with Texas-Tyler two days later and this time came out on top 7-1 with Baxter hitting a two-run double to help a six-run Wildcats rally midway through the game.
The Wildcats ended up winning four straight do-or-die games to gain a spot in the championship round.
When the dust finally settled, Linfield found itself owning a pair of impressive NCAA Division III records for most wins in a season (51) an most home runs in a season (103), shattering the past mark by almost 30.
'It's pretty unbelievable to look back on what this team has accomplished,' Vaughan said. 'It's one of those years where everything went pretty great, and you can look at it and say you were one of the best teams in Division III history.'