Trinity Christian’s softball success this season did not come out of nowhere.
There was a plan to develop the Trolls into a success from the ashes of a 5-42 season five years ago.
It began when Missy Bolhuis was hired after that campaign. There was an immediate improvement – a 17-win season in 2010 – but the real groundwork took place in recruiting.
Now, after three more sub-.500 seasons, that work has paid off. For the first time since 1992, the Trolls (26-25) are in the championship tournament of the National Christian College Athletic Association. That year, the Trolls hosted the first national tournament in Oak Lawn,
This season, they are seeded fifth, their quest for a national championship begins today when they play fourth-seeded Grace College (27-28) at 1:30 p.m. CT.
By Saturday, when the 10-school double-elimination tournament concludes, the Trolls will, at the least, have gotten a taste of national competition, and perhaps more.
Their opening argument with the Lancers of Grace finds them facing the only team in the joust with a sub-.500 record, and Trinity is responsible for that, having beaten the Lancers 2-1 on March 8 in the second game of the season.
If Trinity’s sudden rise to contention is a surprise, Grace’s is a shock. The Lancers were seeded fourth in their region and came out of the consolation bracket to beat Cedarville to advance to the tournament in Roanoke, Va.
The Trolls dealt Bethel back-to-back losses, by 2-0 and 9-3 margins, to score their North Central Regional championship, the first for Trinity softball in 22 seasons. Put another way, none of these players were born the last time the Trolls held a North Central trophy aloft.
Mattie McGuire recorded her ninth win of the year, striking out seven and yielding only three hits, in the shutout opener. Tori Grzincic and April Lynn connected on RBI singles to send home Trinity’s two runs.
Bethel scored three runs on six hits in the deciding game, but Trinity pitcher Brianna Brugioni helped her cause, going 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBI, and the Trolls led all the way. Trinity scored three runs in the bottom of the first, made it 4-1 in the third and 7-1 with a big fourth inning, including RBI hits by Grzincic and Brugioni, that put Bethel in a hole too deep to climb from.
While Olivet Nazarene won the CCAC Championship and advances to the NAIA tournament (as does runner-up St. Xavier), Trinity, while knocked out of the CCAC soiree via a 4-1 second-day loss to Calumet-St. Joseph, is the only conference school to make it to the NCCAA carnival.
Calumet scored once in the second and in the fourth, and twice in the fifth, back to back doubles by Brittany Renninger and Sophie Kessler each knocking in a run for the Crimson Wave. Trinity’s only run was scored in the third, briefly tying it 1-1 on a Grzincic sacrifice fly to left that brought home Anna Phillips.
Brugioni earned all-CCAC first team designation by virtue of her play, especially her pitching. She stands 10-5 entering the NCCAA Championship, with 86 strikeouts and a 2.36 ERA, all of those marks the best on the squad. Her regular-season ERA of 1.96 was sixth in the CCAC. She held down first base when not in the circle, and scored a .962 fielding percentage.
McGuire and Phillips scored second-team conference plaudits. McGuire is 9-9 with a 2.68 ERA and has struck out 62 entering the NCCAA Championship, her 14 complete games leading the Trolls. She’s also picked up a pair of saves and boasts a .979 fielding percentage. Phillips, Trinity’s center fielder, batted .329 and coaxed a team-high 13 walks, making her on-base percentage of .380 the best of the Trolls’ regulars. She’s also 8-of-9 stealing bases this season, tops among the Trolls.
The Numbers (entering the NCCAA tournament): 26-25 overall, 11-9 CCAC, 13-7 home, 4-9 road, 9-9 neutral. Leaders: Jayme Love, .373, 60 hits; Tori Grzincic, 27 RBI, 3 HR, .484 slugging percentage; Anna Phillips, 8 steals; Brianna Brugioni, 10 wins, 86 strikeouts, 2.36 ERA; Mattie McGuire, 2 saves, 14 complete games.
Schedule: Today, NCCAA 1st rd., vs. Grace, 1:30 p.m.; if a win, Friday, vs. Shorter, Central Baptist or Cedarville, 11 a.m.; if a loss to Grace, Thursday, 5:30 p.m., consolation bracket.