The LIU Post softball team is headed to the NCAA Division II College World Series starting Thursday in Salem, Virginia.
Pitching and power hitting carried the Pioneers to a 3-0 victory over Caldwell (New Jersey) Saturday in the third game of the East Super Regional in Greenvale.
Caldwell (45-9) had forced the final game in the best-of-three with a 6-1 victory earlier in the day.
"That first game, it burned a little bit," said Post catcher Aly Dzierzynski, whose second-inning home run -- her program-best 25th of the season -- was the only run of the game until the seventh, when Nicole Hagenah hit a two-run homer, her 15th this year and 47th of her career. Megan Salcido pitched a two-hit shutout.
Salcido, who was perfect for 4 2/3 innings, pitched as if Dzierzynski's homer was the only run she would have.
"I was so happy for her," Salcido said. "Home runs have gotten us a long way over the season, I'm glad that happened today."
Dzierzynski, who is batting .439 for Post (50-9), gave her team a scare in the sixth inning of the first game when she was writhing in pain behind the plate after being hit with a foul tip on the ring finger of her right (throwing) hand.
"She has hurt the hand before, so we were a little nervous," Salcido said. "I'm glad that she was OK."
Dzierzynski said: "I wasn't coming out; this was the biggest game of the season. I wanted to be in the World Series so bad. I wanted to be a part of it. And I put the pain aside and wanted to get that W. I just tried to block it."
And it was really nothing compared with what Dzierzynski had endured earlier in her life. As a high school freshman at Deer Park, she had surgery to remove a malignant ovarian tumor.
"It's in the rearview mirror now," she said. "It only made me stronger as a person, so that helps me mature as an athlete and a person in general. My mentality through the whole thing was that I'm going to get better. I wanted to get back to sports."
Coach Jamie Apicella said of Dzierzynski: "She has such energy for this team, she's a great leader. It's always very sentimental to me to see her even performing at this level with what she's gone through in her life. What she's done this year is off the charts."
Dzierzynski is tied for second in the nation for most home runs by a D-II player. Tiffany Brown of Pittsburg State started the day with 27. Dzierzynski has 44 in her career. None seemed more important than in the second game.
"There's always that little bit of pressure knocking on your back," she said. "But our team is really god at putting the pressure behind them . . . This has been our goal since Day 1.
"To finally accomplish that, it's almost surreal."