NEWPORT NEWS — Salisbury ended Christopher Newport's softball season in the 2007 and '09 NCAA tournaments. The Captains returned the favor in 2011 — by 16 runs, no less — to earn their second consecutive World Series trip.
So suffice to say, there is considerable history and respect among the coaches, players and fans from these accomplished programs. And maybe even a dash of enmity, the spice that enlivens sports' best rivalries.
But nothing that transpired in the previous 60 games between the two equaled Saturday. Conference championship, extra innings, national rankings, trying conditions and, finally, a pinch-hit, walk-off home run.
Senior Taylor Dillow struck the decisive blow, a one-out, 2-run blast to left-center field in the bottom of the eighth inning to give 13th-ranked CNU a 3-2 victory in the title game of the Capital Athletic Conference tournament.
"It's always come down to something crazy," Captains coach Keith Parr said of the duels with the Sea Gulls. "Wouldn't expect anything less between us. They've knocked us on the chin a couple times. We've knocked them on the chin a couple times."
For the second consecutive day against Salisbury, Parr was some version of Tony LaRussa and Casey Stengel. Friday, he elected Kelsey Lewis to pinch-hit, and she drove in the game's lone run. Saturday, he turned to Dillow.
"I've done it for awhile, having him call on me last minute," Dillow said. "I know he has that confidence in me and puts me in that situation. And I have the confidence in myself."
Like Lewis, Dillow was facing Rachel Johnson, as dominant a pitcher as you'll find. She entered this weekend 17-0. She exited 18-2.
"After she throws two balls in a row, I thought, 'She'll have to come back, because she's not going to want to walk me,'" Dillow said. "I'm looking for one right in there, I got up on the plate and I went for it."
Dillow's sixth home run of the season countered the solo shot by Harley Hill that gave Salisbury a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth. The teams traded solo homers — Tori Clarke for the Captains, Katie Sebbane for the Sea Gulls — during regulation.
CNU and Salisbury began playing one another in 1989, but never had the schools shared a league. The Captains' move from the USA South this season to the Capital, where the Sea Gulls had reigned for the past 17 years, merely ratcheted up the tension.
Sure enough, the teams split a regular-season doubleheader -- CNU's 2-0 victory was Salisbury's first defeat of the year, while Salisbury's 11-2 win was CNU's lone home loss. Then came Friday's 1-0 Captains win, only the Sea Gulls' second setback.
See the trend? Salisbury (33-3) has been literally unbeatable, except against CNU (35-6).
Overnight and daylong rain Saturday rendered Christopher Newport's softball field a quagmire, and a makeshift crew of campus groundskeepers and athletic department administrators worked fervently — think truckloads of dirt — to make the field playable.
At 4:12 p.m., more than six hours after the scheduled 10 a.m., start, CNU freshman Makayla Jenkins threw the first pitch.
Saturday marked the first time this season that Jenkins, a left-hander from Gloucester High, started in the circle a second straight day. Such repeat outings are routine in the sport, but Jenkins broke the fifth metatarsal in her left foot in December, limiting her conditioning.
Why did she start Saturday? Because Jenkins was 2-0 against Salisbury, including Friday's gem.
"I didn't think she was going to be able to go seven strong again today," Parr said.
But she did, aided by outstanding defense from corner outfielders Kristina McLaughlin (three sterling catches) and Rachael Shiflett (clutch throw to cut down a run at the plate in the eighth). While not as overpowering as Johnson, Jenkins mixed speeds and locations to give CNU the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid — pairings won't be announced until May 5 -- and a 14th straight win.
This will be CNU's eighth consecutive NCAA tournament, and with quality pitching, defense and offense, the Captains are similar to Parr's 2010 and '11 World Series squads.
Consider: The 2011 team that came within a victory of the national championship, hit .317, pitched to a 2.25 ERA and committed 66 errors in 50 games.
Entering Saturday, CNU's numbers through 40 games were a .378 batting average, 1.77 ERA and 39 errors.
But check this out: Salisbury's numbers were better.
The unanimous No. 1 team in the latest national coaches' poll, the Sea Gulls were hitting .394 with a 1.05 ERA. They have reached the World Series seven times in the last 16 years, most recently last season.
"We know Salisbury's going to be there (in the NCAAs)," Parr said. "I don't see any reason they won't be in the regionals. So this was a pride game today, and after today the new season starts."
Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.