On the field, Kaitlin Dormire was all confidence during the Cleary University softball team’s national title game with St. Mary’s of the Woods on Thursday.
“Every time I would go out to the mound, she would tell me, ‘Don’t worry. Offense is going to come through,'” pitcher Riley Thompson said, smiling. “‘Just keep working on defense.’ I would say, OK, OK. She would always come through.”
Both came through for the Cougars. Dormire hit a two-run homer to provide Cleary’s offense for the second day in a row, and Thompson tossed a five-hitter, striking out eight, as Cleary held on for a 2-1 victory.
“I had complete faith my team was going to win,” Dormire said Thursday night after the team had returned to Howell, championship trophy in its hands. “But you always are a little nervous. When it finally happened, I was beyond excited. I’m so proud of my team, and i’m so glad we could come through and win the national championship.”
But she also admitted to some nerves the night before.
“I was up all night trying not to worry about it,” she said, smiling.
Cleary coach Tim Bailey, whose team lost to St. Mary’s in last year’s final, didn’t relax until the final out. St. Mary’s had cut the lead to one with a run in the sixth.
“The girl that was up (Hollie Jones) was, by far, St. Mary’s best player,” he said. “I was like, ‘if we can get this out, we can save the game,’ and she grounded to third base. Liz (Stockert) made a great play and threw her out, and it was great. It was just awesome.”
“It was a relief,” Thompson said of the final out. “Stress relief, and one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. It was sad, too, bittersweet, because I knew it would be the last pitch I ever threw in fastpitch.”
It was the second day in a row that Cleary had beaten St. Mary’s. The Cougars also won on Wednesday, 2-0, on another two-run homer by Dormire.
“Both were just bombs, way out of the park,” Bailey said. “The place went quiet when she hit them. She’s been there all season. She’s a big clutch hitter. She not only hits home runs when we need it, but she does it when we’ve got to have them.”
Both Dormire, who finished with a USCAA-best 13 homers, and Jordan Schneider, who hit 11, will return next season.
Next season, by the way, is already on the horizon for Bailey.
“I’m going recruiting on Saturday,” he said. “It never stops.
“I’m really proud of this team and these girls,” Bailey added. “They did an awesome job all year long. We’re really happy to bring this trophy home to Howell and to Cleary University.”
The Cleary baseball team did its best to match the softball team, but ran into a hot pitcher and could manage only three hits in a 1-0 loss to The Apprentice School in the loser’s bracket final earlier in the day.
“After doing so well offensively in the first two games and into the third game, we didn’t hit from the seventh inning of that game through today,” Cleary coach Karl Kling said. “It was disappointing, it was shocking, but the kids gave everything they could.”
It was the 10th one-run loss of the season for the Cougars, who finished 20-30.
“The only teams that beat us played for the national title (won by host Penn State-Dubois),” Kling said. “You take some solace in that, but then you think they only beat us by one run. We just couldn’t get one hit we were doing so well getting early in the tournament.”
The Cougars baseball team arrived on campus about an hour before the softball team.
“The last bus ride? It was sad,: senior John Malbone said. “But when we got close to the end, it was one of those things where you sit back and you really enjoy it and realize what you’ve done the last four years and seen the progress we’ve made to make this place a home for some of us.”
Cleary became the first school to win the USCAA’s Directors Cup, given to the most successful program in the organization, for a second year in a row. The university will become a full-time member of the NAIA next school year.