Chattanooga State's Burgess tags out Salt Lake's Neilson for a 4-1 victory in the national championship

Chattanooga State's Burgess tags out Salt Lake's Neilson for a 4-1 victory in the national championship

May 21st, 2012 by Ron Bush in Sports - College

Chattanooga State catcher Chelsea Burgess tags out Salt Lake's Meagan Neilson in the Lady Tigers' 8-7 win that set up their 4-1 victory Saturday for the national championship.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga State wanted to play Salt Lake Community College during the Lady Tigers' 10-game season start in Nevada.

That didn't happen, but they got to finish the season with Salt Lake in southern Utah, and their two wins Saturday resulted in the first national championship for the Amnicola Highway school.

It was Chattanooga State's 16th appearance in 18 years in the NJCAA Division I tournament. Its best previous finish was third in 2008.

"Amazing, wonderful -- all the cliches," said Beth Keylon-Randolph, who was honored as coach of the tournament while the Lady Tigers' Ashley Czechner was the outstanding pitcher and the most valuable player and Lacye Walker, Andrea Dalton and Beth Breeden joined her on the all-tournament team.

Chattanooga State lost 4-1 Friday night against Salt Lake in the winners-bracket final but beat Wallace State from Hanceville, Ala., 7-2 in eight innings Saturday for a chance to play the Bruins again. Then the Lady Tigers ended on top of an 8-7 seesaw battle and added their own 4-1 win to finish at 62-5 with 38 wins in their last 40 games.

Salt Lake (59-9) bumped Chattanooga State from No. 1 to No. 2 in the last NJCAA Division I regular-season poll but was seeded second behind the Lady Tigers in the tournament.

"It's hard to come back through, but these kids never doubted," Keylon-Randolph said Saturday night. "I asked Czechner this morning how she felt on a scale of 1 to 10, and she asked which one was better. I told her '10,' and she said she felt like 20. She wanted a national championship."

Then the LSU signee went out and pitched one, with a lot of help.

The Lady Tigers took a 2-0 lead on Walker's two-run homer against Wallace State, which they had run-ruled on Thursday, but Czechner survived 12 hits while striking out eight batters. Walker began the eighth with a walk, Dalton added a single and Courtney DeLay doubled in three runs before MeQuilla Franklin homered for two.

Czechner relieved Janna Scheff in the fifth inning of the first final against Salt Lake and the Lady Tigers went up 6-4 in the sixth -- when Dalton, Breeden and Andie Johnson singled -- but the Bruins got a three-run homer from Maddy Woodard in the bottom of the inning.

Walker hit the tying homer with two outs in the top of the seventh, though, and Chelsea Burgess was hit by a pitch before Dalton walked and Breeden singled in the go-ahead score. After an error beginning the bottom of the inning, Czechner struck out three batters in a row to end that game.

It was Czech-mate in the finale, as she pitched a four-hitter with seven strikeouts while Shelby Johnson was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, Dalton homered and Andie Johnson and Franklin each went 2-for-3 and combined for the champs' final run.

Walker was 12-for-22 in the tournament with four homers, three doubles and 12 RBIs. Dalton was 10-for-22 and scored eight times, and she had four of her five RBIs and both homers in the last two games.

Breeden, inserted as the designated player when Kortney Koroll got hurt in the region tournament, was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and her third homer of the national tourney in the 8-7 win. She had a grand slam and 11 RBIs.

The Lady Tigers bused to Las Vegas on Sunday and will fly home tonight as big winners.