25 years ago: Softball wins Chapman's first D-III title

The softball team celebrates the 1995 NCAA Division III softball championship.
1995 NCAA Division III Softball Champions

On May 22, 1995, the Chapman University softball team brought home the NCAA Division III title in its first year as a full-fledged member of the Division. The Panthers were led by Hall of Famer coach Lisle Lloyd and current head coach Janet Lloyd. They became the first female Chapman team (and remain the only female team at Chapman) to win a national title.

The national championship run kicked off a powerhouse run in the Panthers' first decade of Division III. Chapman went on to make the Championship Series in five of its first six years in Division III and made the postseason field in 12 of 14 years from 1995-2008.

Relive the Panthers only national championship with then-Sports Information Director Jim Moore's recap:

Chapman Softball, National Champions!

Another game, another showdown.  This time it was a showdown on several levels: No. 1 Trenton vs. No. 2 Chapman.  Defending Player of the Year Michelle Carlson of Trenton vs. 1995 POTY candidate Christy Guidorizzi.  Hot hitters Robin Selbst (7-9 in the final round) of Trenton vs. Chapman's Kathy Donovan (9-15 in the playoffs).  Retiring coaching legend Dr. June Walker, the all-time win leader in D-III, vs. the father-daughter duo of Lisle and Janet Lloyd, the new kids in the division.

One of the tenets of the Panther team this season was "Score first/Attack hard/No mercy/Chapman."  Well, Chapman had scored first in four of their five wins in the tournament (the only exception being the dramatic eighth-inning win over Buena Vista in the regional final).  The Panthers felt that if they could get a lead – any lead – their pitching staff would prevail the rest of the way.

But Trenton scored first.

A topic of conversation all week amongst the Panther players, coaches, and entourage was whether to pitch to Carlson– or to intentionally walk her every time.  After all, the slugging righthander had eye-popping stats: .627 batting average, 1.280 slugging percentage, 22 home runs, 92 RBIs and 78 runs in 49 games.  On one side was the logic of Lisle Lloyd: "That girl is not going to beat us."  He talked of rolling the ball to the plate so she couldn't hit it, after hearing reports of Carlson reaching out and hitting a home run off an intentional-walk pitch in the regionals.  On the other side was the competitive nature of Guidorizzi and her teammates, who did not want to back off from anyone on their way to the title. 

In the first inning, the two sides of the argument came to a head.  Guidorizzi disposed of the first two batters, and faced Carlson with two out and none on.  On the first pitch, Carlson got around on an inside riseball and absolutely cranked it over the left field fence... foul.  The ball cleared the fence by forty or fifty feet and bounced off a concession stand beyond the field– hey, just a loud strike.  But then Carlson hit the next offering off the outfield wall for a double.  A single by fellow All-America selection Sunny Montas drove in Carlson, and the Lions led 1-0.

Of course, sometimes it's hard to score first when you're the home team, so Chapman came to bat determined to make something happen in their first opportunity.  Jenny Martinez, the fleet leadoff batter, didn't waste time.  On the second pitch she laid down a bunt, and her speed down the base path appeared to fluster third baseman Carlson, who fielded and threw high, drawing first baseman Missy Hammer off as Martinez crossed the bag safe.  Christy Guidorizzi then dropped down a sharply-hit bunt, and Hammer proceeded to throw the ball over her teammate's head and deep into the right field corner, where Lion rightfielder Leslie Miller scrambled to catch up to it.  When the dust had settled, Martinez and Guidorizzi had both scored, and defending national champion Trenton State had committed an amateurish couple of errors and lost its lead.

Kathy Donovan, still riding a hot streak, then singled deep in the hole to short after one out.  This brought to the plate shortstop Lisa Cancilla, who had hit respectably in the tournament but not to the standards she set in the regular season.  On a 1-1 pitch, she got the ball where she likes it – inside corner of the plate – and the lefthanded-hitting All-America powered it deep over the fence in right center to cap a four-run inning for Chapman.

From that point, it became a personal battle between Guidorizzi and Carlson.  Other players came up and went out, but everyone waited for the next confrontation.  It came in the top of the fourth, with Carlson the leadoff batter.  It took only one pitch to see that Carlson is indeed the real thing, as she calmly stroked a home run over the wall in left center.  Suddenly a 4-2 lead didn't look all that safe. 

Both teams had small flurries through the middle of the game, but no runs were produced.  Chapman loaded the bases in the fourth but stranded all three.  In the sixth, Kathy Donovan reached third base with one out, but two pop outs ended the rally.

In the top of the sixth, after one out, Carlson came up again.  Wisdom in the stands and the press box was to not even tempt fate– just walk her.  But Guidorizzi wanted the chance to pitch to her, and she got it.  This time Carlson waited until the fourth pitch before lining it into right center.  A quick response by the Chapman outfield limited her to a single and no more damage than the walk would have brought.  After a single by Montas, Lisa Cancilla made perhaps the most important defensive play of the game.  On a sharp grounder down the left side, she made a tough stop and wheeled to throw to Lisa Simpson at third, forcing lead runner Carlson out. 

Then, with two out, Trenton coach Walker made an unusual move, calling for the bunt from catcher Chris Owens.  Guidorizzi fielded it cleanly and threw to Rashi for the out, snuffing the Lions' rally.

In the top of the seventh, the Panthers came close to adding an insurance run.  Guidorizzi doubled with two out, and Jessamine Maiben followed with a single to right, but Lisle Lloyd, coaching at third base, waved Guidorizzi home, where she was thrown out to end the inning.

It all came down to the bottom of the seventh, and the bottom of the Trenton State lineup.  The last three hitters for the Lions combined to hit .390 on the season, but had had no luck thus far against Guidorizzi, drawing only a walk in six appearances.  This time, it took only twelve pitches, as Guidorizzi (who struck out 20 batters in a win over Allegheny to open the tournament) struck out the side in a fitting end to a tournament she had owned from Day One.