JOHN KOVACH | Colleges Muskingum wins after a heavy loss
NEW CONCORD -- Three Youngstown-area women on the Muskingum College softball team took part in a bittersweet adventure recently.
Tami Anglin (Springfield High), Erin Zupko (Liberty) and Angie Burnside (Canfield) and their teammates lost an assistant coach, then won a national championship.
After John Wells died of a heart attack following the team's second game of the NCAA Division III World Series in Eau Claire, Wis., Muskingum managed to play through its grief to win two straight games and its first national title.
Wells, 62, who coached the pitchers, was stricken while throwing batting practice before the second game Friday, and died later that night.
Consensus: "There was that feeling that we wanted to win it for him as well as ourselves," said Anglin, a junior catcher who shared starting duties with Shelli Manson, and caught two of the four games in the tournament.
"Coach [Donna] Newberry told us that he [Wells] probably wasn't going to make it. We were trying to keep our minds on the game, but in the back of our mind we really knew it," added Anglin regarding the team's feelings during the second game.
"But he would have wanted us to play. He was a great guy. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I think that we were pushing to win even harder for him."
Determined: Anglin said the team was determined to play. "Tournament officials gave us the option not to play that game, but we as a team decided we were going to play it because John would have wanted it that way."
Muskingum opened with a 3-0 win over William Patterson (N.J.) on Thursday in the eight-team, double-elimination meet. They followed that with a 2-0 win over defending-champion St. Mary's (Minn.) on Friday before beating Central College (Iowa) twice, 2-0 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday for the title.
Set NCAA mark: The championship win stretched Muskingum's winning streak to 34 games to set an NCAA Division III record, breaking the previous mark of 33 set by St. Mary's (Minn.) in 1998 and tied by the Muskies in 1999.
The championship victory also was a school-record 47th of the season against just six losses.
Dani Keiffer pitched all 28 of Muskingum's innings in the four tournament wins, earning her 30th victory of the season against three losses. She gave up six hits with no walks or strikeouts, and allowed just two runs, only one of them earned.
First title: "This is [Muskingum's] first national championship in any sport," said Anglin, who gave a lot of credit to Keiffer.
"She was a senior. She had the most experience. She did really well," said Anglin, noting that Keiffer's main asset is "probably her mental toughness. She doesn't get down if someone would get a hit."
Anglin said she and Keiffer worked well together as battery mates. "Me and Dani had a special bond. We always could read each other real well. I know what she can throw well. We built on that relationship really well."
Other contributors: Meanwhile, Zupko, a freshman, was the starting left fielder, while Burnside, a sophomore, was the team's No. 2 pitcher and a reliever, but wasn't needed in the national tournament because of Keiffer's excellence.
Anglin said Zupko was a defensive standout. "I really think she didn't make any errors. She was a great left fielder. She stepped up as a freshman when we needed her."
Burnside's main attribute was having "a great changeup," Anglin said. "She was more of a junk pitcher. She kept the batters on their toes."
Coaching force: But Newberry, in her 27th season as the Muskies' coach, was the guiding force behind the team. Newberry is 521-320-1 all-time at Muskingum, including 148-43 the last four seasons.
"She's always pushing up no matter if we are doing well or not. She never let her guard down, even if we are leading by 10 runs," said Anglin of Newberry.
Anglin is majoring in business and has a 3.1 grade-point average. She is eyeing a career in sports marketing.
The daughter of Joy and Gary Anglin, Tami played softball for four years at Springfield for coach Bill Knight.