BLOOMINGTON — There was singing and dancing inside Illinois Wesleyan's dugout during a two-hour weather delay Saturday in the deciding game of the NCAA Division III softball super regional.
The players refrained from taking a slide on the tarp covering the field. But several people associated with the team happily obliged, including assistant coach Bob Grimes.
"We want to keep it loose and fun," said IWU head coach Tiffany Prager.
When play resumed with IWU holding a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, the No. 7-ranked Titans put ace Ally Wiegand in the circle. One pitch later, IWU turned a double play and was on its way to a 4-1 victory and a fourth straight appearance in the national finals.
"Getting that double play was huge for us," said Wiegand. "It was a huge energy shifter and it just solidified we just had that game after the two-hour delay."
IWU recovered from Friday's 2-0 loss in the opener of the best-of-three series with a 1-0 victory in Saturday's first game as Wiegand threw a three-hitter and never let a runner past first base. Also for the fourth straight year, IWU was able to bounce back from losing the super regional's opening game.
The Titans, who were national runner-up last year, improved to 38-8 while advancing to the finals in Tyler, Texas, beginning Thursday.
"The goal is always to go all the way," said IWU senior center fielder Jillian Runyon, who was named the super regional's Most Outstanding Player. "I think we can do it, but it will take everyone playing their best. Hopefully we can carry how we played today into next week."
Bree Walker started the second game for the Titans and was touched for a run in the first inning to tie the game after Brittany Murphy's single drove in Sam Berghoff in the top of the first for IWU.
The Titans scored two runs in the second off Ellie Bernero (2-5) on Runyon's single to center and Mia Massaro's infield hit. Walker gave up a lead-off single in the fourth before play was halted.
When play resumed, IWU turned to Wiegand (23-3) to get them to Texas. The junior, who was named the super regional's Most Outstanding Pitcher, didn't allow a hit while walking one and striking out three.
"Bree really kept it simple and really had a good one-pitch focus," said Prager. "She looked good out there and handed off to Ally, and Ally did what Ally does."
Freshman Hayley Earl's double down the left field line scored Murphy in the second inning for the only run in Saturday's first game. Earl was robbed of a home run in the fourth when Carthage left fielder Rylee Johnson reached over the fence just inside the foul pole.
Carthage ace Stefanie Guercio (22-4), who blanked the Titans on Friday, allowed six hits, including two by Runyon. But Wiegand struck out six and was helped in the fifth when Runyon tracked down a long drive by Bernero leading off the inning.
The Titan defense was near flawless all day with only one error. Second baseman Shelby Fulk made a couple diving stops in the second game. Fulk also had two hits along with Runyon, Murphy and Berghoff, who had to get pinch-hit for in the fourth because of a nose bleed in the dugout.
"I'm so confident in this team to get the job done, and today they got the job done," said Prager. "They got key hits in key situations. There were a lot of key defensive plays, as well, over the course of the two games."
Carthage (30-16) was seeking its first national finals appearance. Instead, the Lady Reds had to watch their College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin rivals celebrate afterwards.
"The first game was a pitcher's duel. They got the key hit and we didn't," said Carthage coach Amy Gillmore. "In both games, our bats just went cold at the (wrong) time. Even our defense overall in both games, we made some mistakes and Wesleyan capitalized. Against a good team you can't do that."