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On this day in IU sports: Softball reaches first College World Series



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The 1979 IU softball team poses for a photo. The 1979 and 1980 teams returned to Bloomington in 2017 to be recognized for their achievements. Photo courtesy of IU Archives

The Indiana Daily Student sports desk is releasing a series of articles over the summer to relive past moments in Hoosier sports:

Before IU softball head coach Shonda Stanton ruled the dugout, there was Ann Lawver. Before senior Emily Goodin stalked the mound, there was Donna Michalek. Before junior Taylor Lambert roamed the outfield, there was Linda Spagnolo.

Before the current era of IU softball, the 1979 Hoosier team paved the way for the future of the program. The first day of the 1979 AIAW-ASA National Championship was on May 27 in Omaha, Nebraska. 

It was IU softball’s first ever appearance in the Women’s College World Series.

There wasn’t much that Ann Lawver didn’t do in Bloomington. In 1975, she became the first coach of the IU volleyball program and led the team to two 28 -win seasons. She worked as an administrator for the university. Among her duties, Lawver was also at the helm of the 1979 IU softball team.

It was in Lawver’s third year on the diamond with the Hoosiers that she made history.

The 1979 season didn’t start in dominant fashion for IU. The team dropped six of their first 10 games, and lost five in a row at one point. Then, they met Purdue in a double-header and the Boilermakers must have hit a nerve.

The Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers twice in one day. The combined score from the games was 31-0. 11-0 in the first game, and 20-0 in the second game. The IU Arbutus described it as a “shellacking.”

The Hoosiers rattled off nine wins in a row after that, improving their once subpar record to 15-4.

Much like Lawver at the university, Donna Michalek did a little bit of everything for the Hoosiers. In 1979, Michalek hit .374, knocked 14 doubles and drove in 30 RBI while tossing 175 innings from the mound, totaling 11 wins and whiffing 49 batters.

Linda Spagnolo, who was named as a second team ASA All-American the year prior, was another key piece to the team. In 1979, Spagnolo cracked six triples, launched four home runs and scored 34 runs. She finished her career with a .370 batting average, which still stands as the highest in program history. Later that year, Spagnolo competed in the Pan-Am games.

After placing third in the Big Ten tournament in 1977 and 1978, the Hoosiers waltzed through the event in 1979. IU only allowed four hits to reigning champion Michigan State on their way to a 7-3 victory to clinch the title.

The Hoosiers went on to win the MAIA Regional Championships, taking down Western Illinois 3-1 to advance to the College World Series.

The 16-team double-elimination tournament consisted of a variety of schools including Rutgers, Kansas University, Cal Poly Pomona University and Emporia State University. In the first round, the Hoosiers prevailed over Chapman College 8-1, securing first ever victory in the College World Series.

In the winner’s bracket, IU fell to the University of Northern Colorado 4-1, putting them in a vulnerable position one game away from being eliminated.

IU staved off eliminated against the University of Nebraska Omaha with a 4-2 win. Then, IU slipped by Oregon State University 2-1 to keep their title hopes alive.

IU’s next game, against eventual champion Texas Woman’s University, ended up being its last. The Hoosiers fell by a score of 2-1, and took a tie for fifth place in the event.

The team concluded the year with a 32-14 and etched themselves into IU sports history. Many statistics from that year are still program records to this day. Offensively, the squad struck out a total of 80 times, which is the lowest mark in program history. The team’s .282 batting average is sixth in IU's history. The pitching staff held opponents to the fewest hits and second fewest walks in program history.

Lawver stepped away from the softball team after 1979, but continued on as the volleyball coach. In 2018, she was inducted into the IU Athletics Hall of Fame.

The Hoosier team enjoyed the College World Series so much in 1979 that they made their return one year later. Spagnola batted .401 and helped lead the team to a 33-16 mark. In another double-header against Purdue, IU won both games again with a combined tally of 18-3.

In the World Series, IU finished second, coming up short to Utah State University 1-0 in the championship game.

In 2017, the 1979 and 1980 teams made their return to Bloomington, where they were recognized.

"It is our honor and privilege to celebrate the outstanding achievements of our 1979 and 1980 College World Series softball teams this weekend," IU Athletic Director Fred Glass said in a statement. "They were true pioneers and providing them with rings was a long overdue recognition of their remarkable accomplishments that continue to inspire our athletes today."

For every program success, there is a past that built it. Before IU softball took the field in 2020, there was the 1979 team.

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