For Patti Gerckens, the journey began 19 years ago. She was a young coach from New Jersey who inherited a program that had seen four head coaches in the previous six seasons. She had one part-time assistant. The team went 6-28 in her first season.
Since then Gerckens has guided UC San Diego through a move to Division II from Division III, become the program's all-time winningest coach and overseen the construction of a new state-of-the art softball facility on campus.
In a career full of highlights, nothing can come close to what transpired on Monday.
Senior third baseman Sarah Woofter went 3-for-3 with three runs scored and junior All-American Camille Gaito tossed another brilliant game in the circle as the 16th-ranked Tritons blew past No. 1 Alabama-Huntsville, 10-3, in the NCAA Division II Softball Championship game on Monday afternoon at the James Moyer Sports Complex in Salem.
UCSD (45-14) scored 10 runs in the game's first three innings, while Gaito held the potent UAH lineup down until the final frame to lift the Tritons to their fourth win in five days during the NCAA Finals. The victory marks the program's first national title and the 30th overall for UC San Diego as an institution.
Alabama-Huntsville, which also won its first three games in Salem to earn a trip to Monday's championship, concludes the season with an overall record of 48-6-1.
"I haven't really had a chance to think about much other than the excitement of winning a national championship," Gerckens said. "This is so awesome and I'm just so proud of my girls and the team and how everybody came together."
While Gaito earned her ninth straight victory in the NCAA Tournament, the Triton offense was the story on Monday, as UCSD erupted for 10 runs against a squad that had allowed a total of just four in its previous three games. Woofter got on base a total of four times in the game, while senior second baseman Jennifer De Fazio went 2-for-3 with a run scored and a RBI and junior designated player Tess Granath was 2-for-2 with a pair of runs.
"All year we've set goals for ourselves," Woofter said. "Our big goal was to get here to nationals and the championship series and to win it and its unbelievable that all that hard work was worth it.
"As seniors, we wanted to leave a legacy and we wanted to start a winning tradition and I feel we definitely instilled that into the young members on our team. The teams to come are going to be just as good, if not better."
UCSD outhit UAH 12-9 in the game, with the Chargers stranding 11 runners on base. Alabama-Huntsville entered Monday's matchup averaging over seven runs per game.
The rout was on early as the Tritons jumped all over Charger starter Whitney Toler in the bottom of the first inning and scored five runs in the frame. Kris Lesovsky drew a leadoff walk to start things off and advanced to second when Woofter was hit by a pitch. With De Fazio at the plate, Lesovsky stole third and then came home when catcher Krystal Johnson's throw got by third baseman Abby McKay and sailed into left field.