Junior Liz Murphy supplied the pitching, senior Kori Keyes provided offense and defense and seniors Jordan Manno and Courtney Gilbert produced the championship run as the University of Detroit Mercy softball team is heading to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Horizon League Championship on Saturday.
The second-seeded Titans (31-26) needed to win two games over top-seeded UIC (32-23) on the Flames home field — the same team that beat them 8-0 in the semifinals — to win the title and they did that with marvelous pitching performance in coming up with a 2-0 win in Game 1 and a 1-0 victory in Game 2.
Murphy was absolutely dominating as she earned her third win in the postseason throwing two complete game shutouts. In 14 innings facing elimination, Murphy did now allow a run and scattered just eight hits and seven walks with nine strikeouts. And Murphy did against one of the best offensive teams in the Horizon League in regular-season champion Flames.
In the entire tournament, Murphy was 3-0 with a 0.62 ERA. She allowed just three runs and 17 hits in 22 2/3 innings, walking 11 with 19 strikeouts as she was selected the tournament’s MVP.
Keyes hit a two-run single in the first inning in Game 1 to give the Titans a 2-0 lead and Manno and Gilbert came up with back-to-back doubles in the fourth in Game 2 to give Detroit Mercy’s its one-run lead. Gilbert, Keyes and Manno were all named to the All-Tournament Team.
Gilbert hit .417 and had a homer and 5 RBI, while Manno batted .286 with the go-ahead run and was the leader on defense as catcher. Keyes hit .267 and had the game-winning RBI in Game 1.
Detroit Mercy was the second seed entering the tournament, but was 0-3 during the regular season against UIC. The Titans are now 31-26 on the season, the most wins since their school-record 39 in 1991 and the fifth most in school history.
Head coach John Conway — who is retiring after this season — took over the program and went just 10-40 in his first season in 2015, but built the program into championship status.
The Titans won the first three conference championships in Horizon League history — then known as the MCC — in 1987, 1988 and 1989 and also claimed the title in 1992. The fifth title is now the second most in league history behind UIC’s nine. Detroit Mercy last made the finals in 1998, which was the deepest the team has been in the tournament outside their semifinals appearance in 2017.
The team held a watch party for the NCAA selection show on Sunday evening to find out where they would be selected to play their first ever NCAA tournament games. The red, white and blue gathered with players, families and friends to celebrate the joyous occasion which was broadcast on ESPN2.
The show began at 9 p.m. and the long wait to see “Detroit Mercy” appear on the screen began. When asked about the regional, the team simply said, “We’re not done making history yet.”
The Titans were seeded fourth in the Evanston regional and will play at top-seeded Northwestern on Friday at 3:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3. Louisville and Southern Illinois meet in the regionals’ other matchup. The regional is double elimination with the championship game on Sunday.