In the spring of 1992, on the way back from a tournament in Florida, Missouri Southern State University softball coaches and players sensed something special in the works.

The Lions had won eight of nine games, continuing a trend of the previous two seasons in which they had shown remarkable success after jumping up to NCAA Division II from the NAIA. And opposing teams wondered who in the world had come through town.

Said Andrea Clarke, the standout pitcher, “We ended up making T-shirts when we returned to Joplin, saying, ‘Who is that Green team, and where are they from?”

That green team was from the pages of the Show-Me State’s rich sports story, as the Lady Lions went on to win the NCAA Division II national title. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the 1992 Missouri Southern National Championship Softball Team with the Class of 2023.

Built by coach Pat Lipira (MSHOF 2014), the Lady Lions finished 50-7 after beating California State-Hayward 1-0 in the national championship game.

The roster included Clarke, Dana Presley, Carrie Carter, second baseman Cindy Cole, pitcher Angie Hadley, first baseman Stacy Harter, outfielder Leah Ingram, outfielder Krissy Konkol, pitcher Cheryl Kopf, All-American catcher Diane Miller (MSHOF Diamond 9 2015), shortstop Katrina Marshall, third baseman Sharla Snow, catcher Jaki Staggs, outfielder Marcie Waters, designated player Renee Weih, pitcher Sharon Wright and assistant Dee Gerlach.

“People recognized that we were a great group of talented athletes. The team was not weak anywhere,” Ingram said. “I remember we had seven First Team (All-MIAA) members on that team. That is voted on by the MIAA coaches. Our mentality was to work hard, trust each other, and win. Losing was not acceptable.”

In the previous fall, Lipira was often away from campus as she completed a doctorate at the University of Arkansas. Gerlach ran practices.

“Dee did a great job, but we did miss Pat and had a couple of moments where we had to make some decisions for the team,” Miller said. “We did recognize we had some real talent and, if we could all get on the same page, we could be really good. I think it was in October when we all sat down and committed to each other as a team and, from that moment on, we were truly unstoppable.”

The Lady Lions were 36-game winners in each of the previous two seasons, their first in D-II.

Said Lipira, “When we began practicing in January, I knew we had talent, but I had no idea how successful we would be.”

Missouri Southern opened the season 22-2. Ultimately, the team set school records in hits (500), batting average (.345) and slugging percentage (.476). The team also had two 11-game win streaks. The potent offense was led by Marshall (.425 with eight home runs 50 RBI). Seven members of the team batted .335 or better.

Missouri Southern had 26 shutouts that season, and the team earned run average was 1.05. Clarke, a 31-game winner and All-American, threw a drop ball in high school, and then added a screwball in college.

“Once the postseason started, my nerves kept getting worse but wouldn’t start too bad until actual game time,” Clarke said. “My heart would race and, with my head down (not looking), I would be chewing on my fingernails! I would say to myself, ‘If I don’t watch, we will get a hit and win!’”

In the regional championship, trailing 2-1 with one out in the seventh inning, Missouri Southern scored six runs and beat defending national champion Augustana 7-3.

At the national tournament, they beat Saginaw Valley 8-1 and topped Bloomsburg 1-0.

In the championship game win against California State-Hayward, Presley’s pinch, bases-loaded single in the fifth inning knocked in Carter for the lone run. The game ended on a double play, the 16th turned by the Lady Lions that season.

“I was a pitching and defense coach,” Lipira said. “I always said, ‘Ladies, they can’t win if they don’t score.’   It is only fitting that the national title game was a shutout.”

Sallie Beard (MSHOF 2017), the Women’s Athletic Director for 25 years, hired Lipira in the early 80s and watched the program become an NAIA Tournament regular. 1992 was special.

“If I were to describe them in one word, it would be joy,” Beard said. “Beyond their willingness to work hard, they had a sense of joy.”