There is a common theme amongst the nine individuals who coached softball at Allegheny College from 1977 to 2012. Each and every one of them finished their careers with Allegheny with winning records.
It was a combination of three of those coaches and an All-American pitcher who led the Lady Gators to four of their best seasons in program history.
From 1993 to 1996, the Allegheny softball team amassed 130 wins to just 53 losses. The Gators played in the NCAA Division III national championships twice during that span, finishing the 1994 campaign ranked as the No. 3 team in the country.
“Special probably doesn’t do justice when describing the teams over the four years I was at (Allegheny),” said Laurie (Machuga) Grile, who was a four-time All-American for the Gators from 1993 to 1996. “Looking back on the many years of softball, and all organized sports for that matter, the four years I spent playing ball at Allegheny are far and away the best and most fun of my career.
“First, I was extremely fortunate to have such an outstanding group of talent when I arrived. I played three of my four years with nearly the same group. In my opinion, this allowed a chemistry to form that was unique.
“All four years I was surrounded with young women who loved to play ball. They worked hard, and they had fun. Having transferred in from a much larger, public school, what also struck me was how committed the team was to academic success. I might describe it as, we were committed to our sport, but we were dedicated to our future. They were great role models for me in that respect.”
It was Shelley Monas who helped start the run for Allegheny and Grile’s illustrious career. Monas, who later coached at Meadville High School before moving on to coach at several levels in Ohio, coached her final season at Allegheny in 1993 and she did so in style.
Monas led the Gators to a record of 27-13 and the NCAA Division III national championships. She was named the NCAA Division III Coach of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, an honor Allegheny coach Sheilah Lingenfelter (123-38) won in 1988 and 1989.
While the Gators opened the 1993 season with a 7-2 mark in March, it was the latter part of the season that the Gators really shined. In April and May, the Gators were a combined 20-11 with 13 shutouts. A big part of that was a freshman pitcher, who grew as the season went on.
While Monas, Michelle Fagnant and Deb Peffer were a big part of the Gators’ success from 1993 to 1996, a common denominator was Laurie Machuga, now Laurie Grile. Grile finished her freshman year at 18-4. She threw 155 ⅔ innings, finishing with an NCAA Division III-best 216 strikeouts.
Grile helped lead the Gators to the NCAA Central Region Playoff at Muskingum College. Allegheny opened with a 2-0 win over Brockport State before falling to Muskingum 8-0. The Gators bounced back to beat Buffalo State 1-0 before taking the championship series against Muskingum to earn a spot in the NCAA Division III National Championships at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.
“I recall our/my very first regional tournament; we found ourselves in the losers bracket after Game 2, but came back to win it all,” Grile said. “It was a hot weekend and we were exhausted, but it was a thrill.
“That was my first experience being on a team that won a ‘title,’ so I think that will forever be etched in my mind as one of the most memorable.”
Allegheny dropped its first two games of the tournament to end its season.
The 1993 season wound up being just a preview of things to come for Grile and her career at Allegheny.
After Monas’ departure, Allegheny selected Michelle Fagnant to lead its softball program. What transpired was the most successful coaching stint in program history.
The Gators were 34-6 in Faguat’s debut season and finished the campaign ranked No. 3 in the country in Division III. Allegheny started the season with six straight wins. The Gators, again, qualified for the NCAA Central Region Championship, this time as the host.
Allegheny had to battle back from a tournament-opening loss to Ohio Northern (5-2), which it did with wins over Messiah (2-0) and Ohio Northern (6-5). But a 14-4 loss to Trenton State marked the end for the Gators.
Leading the Gators again in 1994 was Grile. Grile’s sophomore season included a perfect game in a 10-0 win over Indiana University of Pennsylvania on April 22.
Grile was 17-3 in 1994 after pitching 135 ⅓ innings with 211 strikeouts.
Faguat’s second and last season with the Gators wound up being the program’s best in history as she led Allegheny to a program-record 39 wins. The Gators were 39-10 and played in the NCAA Division III national championships for the second time in three seasons.
Allegheny won the NCAA East Regional with a swep of Binghamton (5-2, 4-1) to qualify for nationals at Storm Lake, Iowa. The Gators opened nationals with an 8-0 win over Rowan. They then dropped a 5-0 decision to Chapman before notching record win No. 39 with an 8-2 victory over Hope. The season ended with a 7-1 loss to Trenton State.
How did Grile fair as a junior?
Grile threw 200 innings and was 25-6 with a career-best 307 strikeouts. She threw three no-hitters.
Grile finished her four-year career with a 21-6 mark her senior year. Allegheny was 30-14.
“When you get any group of 15 or more women together, there will always be … something,” Grile said. “But we had a common goal, which was to come together on the field and at the plate, and to ultimately score more runs than the other team. Regardless of who was up to bat or who had the ball in the field, we were 100 percent supportive of, cheering for, celebrating success, or supporting and lifting our teammates.
“These ladies taught me much about sportsmanship, courage, grit, and grace. Although I had three different head coaches during my four years, our leadership was outstanding.
“Michelle Fagnant did an outstanding job creating a positive yet competitive culture. She was able to tap into each of our strengths, push us to individual greatness, and still create a strong sense of ‘team.’ She also wasn’t afraid to go against the grain and do things a little unorthodox. I respected that. And Deb Peffer started as a teammate, became an assistant coach, then to head coach as Michelle’s successor. Deb did an outstanding job transitioning from a leader/teammate to a coach. These women were fierce, competitive, positive and all around good role models. I’m grateful to have played with and for them.”
Grile threw 181 innings and struck out 291 in 1996, finishing her career with 1,025 strikeouts, a statistic that still ranks second all-time in Division III. She holds the Division III record for career strikeout ratio (10.7), a total that is tied for second over all divisions. Grile, a three-time first team All-American, is also the NCAA Division III career record holder for consecutive scoreless innings with 75. Grile threw a total of 46 career shutouts, second-best in Division III. She is tied for fifth in Division III history with 19 strikeouts in a game and is ninth in career wins with 81.
Annie Lawrence played a program-record 170 games for the Gators from 1993 to 1996. Tara Dickert is tied for first for career batting average. She hit .423 from 1992 to 1995. Dickert also holds career records for at-bats (532), hits (225) and doubles (55). Jen Jacobs and Laura Fromm were also key cogs in the Gators’ offense during the 1993 to 1996 run.