Clemson University is quickly becoming a softball school.
On the same day the Tigers’ varsity program was concluding its first full season of competition by going toe to toe with No. 3 national seed Alabama, the club softball team faced the unenviable task of needing to beat the University of Illinois in consecutive games to win its first-ever national championship at the NCSA World Series.
“We lost to Illinois 9-0 right off the bat on Sunday (May 23), but thankfully bracket play was double elimination,” said Kate Spence, president and starting right fielder for the club team. “After we beat Virginia Tech in the loser’s bracket, we advanced to the championship but had to beat Illinois twice to win it.”
Behind an offensive onslaught in the first game, a 22-5 win, and a stellar defensive performance in the final game, a 7-2 win, the 16 women that make up the club team won Clemson’s first national championship in the sport.
“The fact we were able to come back after playing two games earlier in the day and beating them was amazing,” Spence said. “We got on top of the ball and swung through it and made good plays in the field. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to achieve this with. We were all cohesive and just get each other.”
When it was all said and done, Clemson had compiled an 18-2 overall record, capped off by the championship at Golden Park in Columbus, Georgia — the same venue that hosted softball at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Spence was one of seven seniors on this year’s club team, which saw its 2020 and 2021 seasons disrupted frequently due to COVID-19. Positive cases and exposures led to several cancellations this spring.
“Because the number of teams was limited this year, we had to travel a little bit further at times,” said Spence, who came to Clemson from the suburbs of New York City and played softball at Northern Highlands Regional High School in New Jersey.
The team practiced twice a week at nearby Nettles Park and its executive board consists of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and social media chair. Spence said her job as president was mostly about holding everyone accountable and communicating with the National Club Softball Association, the governing body.
Sarah Allen serves as the professional counselor in charge of CU CARES — a relationship and sexual violence service — at Redfern Health Center. She also serves as the club softball advisor and assists head coach Eric Muir. She is an alumnus of the club, playing third base from 2012-14 while in graduate school.
Unfortunately, Allen missed the thrill of the national championship in person, but she had good reason. She was home with her husband, Jason, celebrating and caring for their now three-week-old daughter, Mackenzie.
Allen followed the team’s progress online over the weekend and found herself caught up in the moment, at times.
“Jason was making fun of me as I watched the live stream for the games,” she laughed. “I was coaching from home. It was killing me not to be there. My heart was a little bit in Columbus.”
Allen will say goodbye to an accomplished group of seniors, including Spence, who graduated from Clemson a few weeks ago with a degree in biological sciences.
Spence plans to work in the Greenville area and work toward PA School. She enjoyed her Clemson experience and still can’t believe her term as club president ended on such an exciting note.
“I think on a championship high,” she said. “I graduated a couple of weeks ago and now we just won a national championship. What could be better?”