Finding ways to win, picking each other up and being all in has been the formula for success for this season's Molloy softball team, which -- for the second time in program history -- reached the NCAA Division II World Series.
The formula produced one of the most exciting games of the year for the Lions on Thursday in a comeback victory over defending national champion Valdosta State, but the strong run came to a close Saturday night with a 5-2 loss to Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.) in Salem, Va.
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Grand Valley erased a 2-1 deficit by scoring four runs in the fifth off losing pitcher Megan Butterworth. After Emily Jones doubled home the tying run, Miranda Cleary hit a three-run home run.
Molloy got only two hits off Sara Andrasik, who pitched a complete game. Molloy finished its season 53-13. Grand Valley (45-8) plays Kutztown Sunday.
In Lions coach Susan Cassidy-Lyke's eighth season, Molloy was coming off a regular season in which it placed second in the East Coast Conference before winning its third ECC Tournament in a row.
"It's a big accomplishment," Cassidy-Lyke said of reaching the tournament after guiding the Lions to the Division II World Series in 2010. "We're excited."
On the way to reaching the final eight, Molloy beat Dowling, Southern Connecticut and Caldwell in the subregional, then swept Adelphi in two games in the super regional.
Pitchers Butterworth and Kelley Jansen and centerfielder Jeana Frey were members of that memorable 2010 ballclub who have made a mark on this year's group.
Frey pointed out the Lions have matured now to the point that "we know these teams aren't that much better than us," she said. "We can keep up with whoever we have to."
Cassidy-Lyke agreed: "The most complete team, and that's because they're very good defensively, and we have two solid pitchers that keep us in every single game. We're balanced throughout the lineup and very athletic, fast."
Those special attributes were on display in Molloy's victory over Valdosta State. Down three runs with two outs in the seventh, Molloy tied it on five hits. Freshman third baseman Tracey Balinskas had a two-run single to make it 4-3 before junior designated player Dayna White tied it with an RBI double.
Sophomore second baseman Brenda Lee's RBI grounder plated Butterworth with the winning run in a walk-off 5-4 victory in the bottom of the eighth inning.
"One of our most exciting games of the year," White said. "We've been in this spot plenty of times before. We're a team that doesn't stop fighting. We want this more than any team out there."
A 7-1 loss to Central Oklahoma on Friday dropped the Lions into Saturday night's losers'-bracket game.
Junior shortstop Nicolette Sinagra recently was named ECC softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year and is a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree.
With Steven Marcus