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Former Notre Dame Star Holden Named NAIA Pitcher of Year

California Baptist ace's award comes minutes after team falls 1-0 in final of national tournament; junior finishes year with 35-2 record, 0.59 ERA and first-team All-American honors for second time.

Talk about a swing of emotions.

First, Emma Holden was crushed that she and her California Baptist University softball teammates fell painstakingly short of a national championship, losing 1-0 to Oregon Tech in the final game of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament on Wednesday in Gulf Shores, Ala.

But then 10 minutes later, Holden, a former Notre Dame High standout, was named the NAIA Pitcher of the Year in a post-tournament awards ceremony.

“I was already an emotional wreck … so when I found out after that I got it, I was even more emotional,” Holden said. “It was a very low to very high moment.”

Holden, who became last month, finished her junior year with a 35-2 record and earned first-team All-American honors for the second time. The right-hander ranked first in the NAIA in earned run average (0.59), opponent batting average (.102) and hits allowed per game (2.98).

Holden, who was headed home to San Carlos for the summer on Friday afternoon, credited much of her outstanding season to an improved changeup that came as a result of a confidence-boosting conversation with California Baptist coach Mike Smith a year ago.

“Emma has been absolutely amazing out here and there is no doubt she deserves to be the National Pitcher of the Year,” Smith said on Wednesday after his team completed its program-best 66-5 season.

In the national tournament, Holden went 5-1 with a 0.17 ERA, allowing seven hits while striking out 60 in 42 innings.

But Holden indicated her award does little to take away from the sting of her team’s runner-up finish.

After being dropped to the losers’ bracket with a 1-0 loss to Oregon Tech on Tuesday, California Baptist needed to beat Oregon Tech twice on Wednesday. The Lancers looked poised to do just that after rolling to a 7-0 victory in the first game behind six shutout innings from Holden. But then Oregon Tech scored once in the first inning of the second game, and that run proved just enough to deny California Baptist its second title in three years.

“Very heartbreaking. Very emotional,” said Holden, who threw 2 2/3 relief innings in the decisive game. “It was so close to being a perfect year. We just missed it by an inch.”

Compounding the disappointment is the fact that this was California Baptist’s last year in the NAIA. The Lancers are set to join the NCAA Division II and the Pacific West Conference, and Holden noted that California Baptist won’t be allowed to participate in the postseason next year because of the switch.

“It was heartbreaking for the seniors and juniors because this was our last chance,” said Holden, who expects to nanny, teach pitching lessons and play for the California Gold Rush in San Mateo with several local collegiate players this summer. “That’s why it’s so hard.”

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