TIFFIN, Ohio – The final at bat of the season was, as Heidelberg University softball player Mikaela Mitsch said in the postgame press conference, a microcosm of the year. Sophomore Randi Kelsey, representing the tying run, was at the plate with two on and two down, down 8-5. Kelsey fouled off a bevy of pitches from Alfred University's Kerri Keeler, with the season hanging in the balance.
On the 17th pitch of the at bat, Kelsey lined an RBI single to right center, scoring Kayla Zachrich. Aggressively, Kelsey tried to sneak past the Saxon defense and get herself into scoring position. On a bang-bang play at second, AU's Nicole Maher applied the tag just ahead of the headfirst dive.
And just like that, the improbable 2015 season came to a dusty halt.
Timely hitting, aggressive base running and a never-say-die attitude were hallmarks during the 2015 campaign -- the best season in school history.
Alfred defeated Heidelberg twice on an overcast Saturday at Frann's Field, 3-2 and 8-6, winning the NCAA Division III Super Regional. With the wins, the Saxons (40-5) advance to the NCAA Division III Championships.
Heidelberg finishes the season at 34-10 – the most wins in school history.
"You can break all the records in the world, but it doesn't matter unless you have quality kids ... and I've got quality kids," said Heidelberg head coach Betsy Hada.
In fourth inning of the first game, Mitsch hit a titanic game-tying two-run home run to left. The blast, which one-hopped the fence of the baseball field, was her eighth of the year.
Nicole Maher broke the tie in the seventh with a weak roller to third. Maher beat the throw of Kyleah Brey, which allowed Liz Thompson to cross the plate.
Heidelberg was unable to answer in the bottom of the inning, which forced the decisive third game.
Alfred chased Paige Atterholt – who had logged every inning of HU's postseason run – in the first inning of the second game. The Lady Saxons scored three in the first, two in the second and one in the third to take a commanding 6-0 lead.
But the Student Princes didn't pack it in. They scored four times in the third to get back into the contest. Consecutive singles by Marissa Smego, Mitsch and Abbey McKee loaded the bases. Kayla Zachrich followed with another single, plating Smego. On an 0-1 pitch, Kyleah Brey was hit in the foot, forcing in another run.
After a pitching change, Hayley Patel sent a sharp bouncer up the middle that was snared by Keeler. Keeler threw home for the force, but catcher Nora Passuite's throw to first sailed down the right field line. The error allowed two more runs to score.
Heidelberg rallied for another run in the fourth. With two outs, Smego was hit by a pitch and Mitsch reached on an error at second. McKee, a freshman, singled down the left field line, plating Smego.
Alfred padded their lead with a two-out, two-run double by Thompson in the top of the sixth.
In the seventh, Zachrich and Brey reached on singles to right. With one out, Hayley Patel sent a screamer to right that was caught by Samantha Jauregui. That set up Kelsey's marathon at bat, which left the Tricolor faithful in a stunned silence.
"All year long, we battled, we took chances and we fought together as one team," said Hada. "It would have been easy to give up today, but that's not how these girls operate."
Paige Atterholt (19-5) took the losses in both contests. Erin Chapman, pitching for the first time since April 21, threw 6.1 innings in relief.
Smego was 7-for-9 in the super regional. Zachrich had six hits while Mitsch and Renee Lovett had four each.
The 2015 season marked Heidelberg's first Ohio Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles, their first trip to regionals, their first regional title, and their first trip to the NCAA super regionals. All of it came while the team played its first season on Frann's Field, their new home.
And with no seniors on the roster, the Student Princes are poised to continue their success into 2016.
"I think it will take a while for this season to sink in," said Hada. "This season, we proved to ourselves that we belong with the best teams in the conference, the region, and the nation."