CHAMPAIGN — Parkland softball moved one step closer to its season-long goal of winning a national championship.
A 4-1 victory against No. 18 Danville Area (40-21) on Tuesday in the Region 24 title game hosted by Parkland lifted the fourth-ranked Cobras (49-10) to the NJCAA Division II national tournament for the first time since 2021 and the tenth time in program history.
“It means the world to us,” Parkland co-head coach Dan Paulson said. “Our sophomore class is, they’re the best leadership class that we’ve been a part of and last year we came up one run short. So to be able to get them there, to enjoy the experience, that was our goal from the beginning of the year.”
Karley Yergler earned her 25th win of the season after striking out nine batters and yielding seven hits over the course of seven innings of work.
The Jaguars loaded the bases in the first inning before Yergler, a former Mahomet-Seymour standout, escaped trouble and kept the game scoreless. Lizzie Stiverson, a Monticello graduate, scored on a passed ball and Kami Pearson added an RBI single in the bottom of the frame to give the Cobras a lead they would hang onto for the rest of the game.
“Karley and our defense got some big outs,” Paulson said. “It seemed like we were in pressure situations on defense every inning, but we got through it.”
Kyleigh Weller scored for the Jaguars in the second inning before Ellie Vetter responded with a two-RBI single that plated Jaidi Davis and Emma Mason in the bottom of the third inning.
“Ellie (was) outstanding, offensively, defensively the entire tournament,” Paulson said.
“She was on the ball tracking it well ... she got a couple of hits, got a couple of RBI, she made a run-saving catch in right-center field in the game as well. She was big for us on Saturday and (Tuesday).”
Parkland will learn its opponent for the first round of the NJCAA tournament on May 19 before traveling to Spartanburg, S.C., for the double-elimination tournament that is due to begin on May 23 at Tyger River Park.
The Cobras have never won an NJCAA championship but placed second in 2002, 2005 and 2006 and earned third place in 2012.
“We played probably one of the toughest, what I’ll call pre-region schedules this year,” Paulson said. “We went to Florida twice, we went to Mississippi, went to Georgia, so we’ve played some of the teams that are in the top 10. We kind of know what’s out there.
“There’s a lot of good softball teams out there, but we feel like we’ve been through a lot, I guess you could say, a lot of challenging situations with this group. So we’re excited about it.”