For today’s “When Sports Were Played,” we go back 23 years to May 19, 1997, when California University won its first NCAA Division II softball national championship.
SALEM, Va. – When Rick Bertagnolli became California University’s softball coach in January, 1994, the Lady Vulcans have never won even an NCAA regional title despite their perennial status as one of the best teams in the state.
In less than four years, he is taking them where no Vulcans team has gone before.
To a national championship.
Junior Danielle Penner completed her dominance of the NCAA Division II Softball Championship by scattering six hits, and Chartiiers-Houston High School graduate Kerry Novak singled home the winning run in the sixth inning Monday as California beat Wisconsin-Parkside, 2-1, to earn the title.
The Lady Vulcans (53-5) are the first national champions in school history and the first PSAC softball team to win the championship. They are also the first area college team to win a national title since Waynesburg won the 1966 NAIA football championship.
“To beat such a marvelous ballclub twice in this tournament is a tremendous feat by our team,” Bertagnolli said. “I guess you could say, ‘Who da thunk it?’ We’re going to cherish every moment.”
Wisconsin-Parkside’s unearned run in the first inning Monday was the only run allowed by Penner in California’s five-game run to the championship, and the only one she allowed over her final 49 innings this season. She finished the tournament with 27 strikeouts in 35 innings and wound up 50-3, tying the NCAA all-division, single-season record for victories.
“She put on a show, and I’m glad she’s on my side,” Bertagnolli said. “This tournament possessed so many tremendous players and Danielle Penner happened to be the one to rise to the top of them all.”
With the game tied in the bottom of the sixth inning, third baseman Lith Webb reached base on a fielder’s choice and stole her team-high 12th base of the season. Novak then singled up the middle with shortstop Kristen Cirullo fielding the ball behind second base. Webb didn’t hesitate rounding third base and scored.
“I was just trying to stay on my feet because I was running so hard and was so nervous,” Webb said. “I had a feeling I was going to score and Coach Bertagnolli’s eyes were so big when I got to third.”
Novak, a right fielder playing in her PSAC-record 214th career game, also had a game-winning hit in California’s tournament-opening 5-0 win over Florida Southern May 15 but this hit was just a little bigger.
“When I got to the plate, I was thinking this would probably be my last at-bat in college,” Novak said. “(Parkside’s Wendy Wolff) is a tremendous pitcher. I just wanted to put the ball in play and I did. I feel numb right now. This is a tremendous feeling and I don’t know what to say.”
Penner retired Parkside in order in the seventh.
Novak, Webb, Tanner, and senior designated player Keri Weaver were all named to the all-tournament team. Webb hit .353 in the tournament and scored both of the Lady Vulcans’ runs Monday.
Wisconsin-Parkside (62-10), which lost to California, 1-0, earlier in the tournament, took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when right fielder Billi Kapla’s two-out double scored Kathy Kilsdon, who had reached based on an error. Parkside left runners on second and third in the inning.
Penner worked out of a similar jam in the third as Parkside had runners on second and third with one out. Cleanup hitter Jackie Aiken grounded out after taking two quick strikes, both after catcher Dana Boyer motioned for an intentional walk, and when Kapla struck out.
“We’ve gone over that play all the time,” Bertagnolli said of the sneaky strikes. “And if you ever use it, it might as well be in the national championship game. We did not want Aiken on base, and we tried to keep her off balance.”
The Lady Vulcans tied the game in the third when Webb reached second on an error, was sacrificed to third by Novak and scored on junior Jen Valeriote’s one-out single off Wolff (37-7).