Sunday, May 18, 2003

McAuley grad Salas rights Wright State


Softball team earned surprise NCAA berth

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Wright State softball team was one out from the end of a disappointing season. The Raiders were a groundout from a season-ending record more than 20 games below .500. A pop-up shy of a close-but-no-cigar ending in the conference tournament finals.

Then with one swing of the bat, Stephanie Salas turned around the season and jump-started the best week in the program's history.

With her team - the No. 8 seed in the eight-team Horizon League Tournament - trailing host team Cleveland State 5-3 and down to its last out, the McAuley graduate hit a ball over the left-centerfield fence.

The homer, the second of Salas' career and her second of the tournament, provided the difference for Wright State (17-37) in its 7-5 win, catapulting the team into the NCAA Tournament.

As one could imagine, the three-run home run set off a celebration.

"As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone," the sophomore said. "It was an amazing feeling. It was just surreal. As soon as I crossed the plate, pure craziness."

Salas, a first baseman, was named the tournament MVP after batting .308 with six RBI. And the Raiders were heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program's 30-year history.

They were the only team in the 64-team field with a losing record, which according to Salas only further motivated a team used to playing the underdog.

"I think that's what has made this such a sweet experience," she said. "Everybody comes in thinking that they're going to walk all over us. It's almost better to be an underdog, because we can go out and prove that we belong."

And after an 8-0 first-game loss to DePaul in the double-elimination tournament, Wright State made its name.

In their next game, the Raiders upset Missouri 3-1 for the first-ever Division I NCAA Tournament win for any Wright State women's team, eliminating the Tigers.

Salas wasn't able to play in the game after straining knee ligaments in a rundown against DePaul, but she understands what the win meant for the history of the program.

"I think it gives us a lot of momentum for the future," she said.

"We came in and we had a losing record in the regular season. So people think things. But we know what we're made of."

The Raiders were eliminated in a 13-0 loss to Michigan a day after the biggest win in the program's history, but the promise they showed in the tournament was not lost on coach Sheila Nahrgang.

"Of course we want to improve on our win-loss record," Nahrgang said.

"But now we have a taste of what it's like in the tournament, and we don't want to settle for less."

E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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