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Texas Lutheran's quest for back-to-back national championships comes up short against Virginia Wesleyan

Kelly Jurden, Kali Chatham, and Skylar Ouellette (photo Sideline Media Productions)
Kelly Jurden, Kali Chatham, and Skylar Ouellette (photo Sideline Media Productions)
SALEM, Va. -- Texas Lutheran's quest for a second consecutive NCAA Division III Softball National Championship ended in the last possible game of the 2021 season - in an 9-1 loss to two-time national champion Virginia Wesleyan in the winner-take-all third game of the national finals series.
Tuesday at Moyer Sports Complex, TLU forced a third game in the best 2-of-3 series with a 3-2 victory in the second game of the finals series. TLU dropped the first game of the series 4-2 on Monday and stayed alive with a victory in the 11 a.m. game Tuesday.
Bulldog right-hander Ashlyn Strother tossed a complete-game in the first game. She took a shutout into the seventh. VWU All-American Jessica Goldyn tripled with two outs and two on to bring the tying run to third and the winning run to the plate.
Strother stayed in the game and coaxed Madison Glaubke into a shallow fly ball to center that Kelly Jurden caught on the run.
Skylar Ouellette drove in all three runs for the Bulldogs in the early contest. Her groundout up the middle in the first brought home Jurden and Casey Martin.
Ouellette's insurance run RBI single in the sixth proved to be huge. Ouellette brought home Jurden, who started the inning with a single.
"In game two, I thought we played well," said Wade Wilson, TLU's 10th-year head softball coach. "We probably scared our fans there in the last inning, but I thought Ashlyn pitched extremely well. We scored two quick (runs) in the first, and I thought that was what we needed to do. We held on, and Sky had the big hit in the sixth to give us our third run."
Strother, a Third Team All-American, improved to 13-1 with the win. Emily Seale took the loss for VWU and fell to 22-3.
After a 45-minute break, the two teams resumed action. VWU took a quick 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a lead-off home run from Goldyn off of Strother.
The Marlins added another run in the first, three in the third, and three in the fourth.
The Bulldogs avoided the eight-run rule in the top of the fifth by scoring on a Rebecca Snow sacrifice fly. Kelly Jurden reached first base on a one-out single. She advanced to second and third on wild pitches before scoring on the Snow fly ball.
Ariana Rolle clinched the national title for VWU in the bottom of the fifth with a walk-off RBI single. Pinch runner Krissy D'Arco scored the national championship-winning run.
Strother recorded the loss to finish the year at 13-2. Hanna Hull, the two-time NCAA DIII National Player of the Year, went the full five innings and scattered five hits. She allowed one earned run.
"I told our kids before the game that we played in the last games of Division III Softball in the last three years," said Wilson. "We were the last team in the pandemic year because we were granted a doubleheader on that Saturday after the shutdown on Wednesday, so that our seniors could actually have a goodbye or a send-off anyhow. And then we were able to play in '19 and now this year. We've been very fortunate to extend our seasons as long as they possibly could."
TLU players Jurden, Ouellette, Haley Padilla, and Sarah Metzer were named to the NCAA DIII National Championship All-Tournament Team. The student-athletes were four of the Bulldogs' nine returning players from the 2019 title team.
"Definitely a very different year when comparing it to 2019 with the COVID restrictions and all that, but from the very beginning we told everyone that we are going to have to lockdown and that if we want to come to Virginia we are going to have to make sacrifices," said Ouellette. "And a lot of those sacrifices were of course being a typical college student. I think we handled that very well. So many sacrifices were given, and I would definitely do it all again."
Jurden, a two-time playing All-American and a two-time Academic All-American, was thankful for the chance the Bulldogs had to defend their title.
"We definitely knew that every day we were out there practicing that we were lucky," said Jurden. "We were blessed because we knew that not every college softball player was having that opportunity. So we just really embraced it and knew that we were some of the only teams that were able to do that. So we ran with that, and it ended up pretty well.
TLU's games on Tuesday were the final collegiate contests for five Bulldog seniors: right-fielder Ouellette, shortstop Kali Chatham, first baseman Padilla, pitcher Kayla Oliveira, and designated player/outfielder Rebecca Snow, a First Team All-American (along with Jurden) this year.
"Before every game, we say, 'Remember who we are playing for - the past, present and future Bulldogs,'" said Jurden. "So this is for the players that played here before us, this is for us right now, and this is for those coming in the future. We really keep that perspective and know that it is for something bigger."
TLU concluded the year with an overall record of 36-6. VWU closed out 2021 at 46-6-1.