Softball stardom has taken Emily Mikkola all over the country. Her latest stop was rising to new heights as she was at the NAIA World Series last month making history with Tennessee Wesleyan University.
Mikkola was part of the first Bulldog team to ever qualify for the World Series, which was played in Columbus, Ga. While TWU wasn’t able to come away with a championship (dropping both its games in 1-0 heartbreakers), Mikkola was able to make the most of the opportunity. She recorded the team’s first hit in in World Series history, forever putting her name in the TWU record books.
The battles in Columbus wrapped up whirlwind season for Mikkola and her teammates. The Bulldogs finished with a 37-9 record, won the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament, earned their first win in an NAIA opening round game in the national tournament and rose the program to new heights. It was a journey Mikkola will forever cherish.
“Going to the World Series is definitely something I will never forget,” said the junior third baseman. “It is something you dream about your whole life. I knew we had a talented group from the beginning and I was excited for the season to unfold from the start.”
Way back in February, while battling her best friend Hailey Wood and the University of the Cumberlands, Mikkola and her Bulldog teammates started what would become an unforgettable run. Through the season, TWU put together 12- and 13-game winning streaks, but a few losses during the year stuck with Mikkola.
Tennessee Wesleyan went 0-4 against conference rival Bryan College, including losing two games on senior day to close the regular season that decided the regular season championship. Once TWU took care of Milligan and Reinhardt in the AAC tourney, Mikkola was ready to do whatever it took to get over the hump against the Lions.
“My favorite moment (of the year) was getting revenge against Bryan in the conference tournament. They had beaten us to take the regular season title and a bid to nationals. In the first inning, I was able to draw a walk and eventually dive in safely into home to score the first run,” Mikkola recalled. “We all knew this could very well be the only run to score in the pitcher’s duel, so it was the best feeling to get the momentum on our side.
“We won that game and stayed in the winner’s bracket. I believe that was the turning point for the run we had in the postseason.”
After taking down Bryan 3-0 in the winner’s bracket finals, TWU claimed the AAC title in walk-off fashion. Haley Hinshaw’s RBI single in the seventh helped the Bulldogs beat Truett McConnell University 2-1 in the championship game. Mikkola did her part in the battle, singling and scoring in the fifth after Truett had taken an early lead.
Mikkola and the Bulldogs stayed hot once they arrived in Bowling Green to play in an NAIA regional. The former Lady Pioneer standout had five hits in the team’s three wins in Kentucky, which came against a pair of NAIA nationally ranked squads. Mikkola had two hits and scored once when TWU opened up with a 3-2 win against No. 21 Campbellsville, then had two more hits and scored three times as the Bulldogs rallied to defeat No. 9 Central Methodist 8-7 to punch their ticket to the World Series (TWU also beat Central Methodist 1-0 in the region).
It was part of another banner year for Mikkola at the plate as she hit .331 and scored a team-high 32 runs. She’s now hitting .338 in her TWU career, which began with a COVID-shortened 2020 season. Among all those great hits this year, Mikkola will have one she can always remember – even if brings back mixed feelings.
“It was a bittersweet moment (getting the first hit in TWU history in the World Series). It’s something I feel like I’ll always remember and I will always be able to say it was me to achieve it. But, at the same time we lost – our first loss of the postseason – and although I made history, it wasn’t enough to get the job done,” Mikkola said about her bunt single to start the World Series.
Being in the record books isn’t the only lasting memory Mikkola is making in Athens. She’s also making lifelong friends, like OF Emily Spears, and building special bonds with her Bulldog teammates. “I think the team is as close as we can be – that’s what makes us so good,” said Mikkola. “We have learned to fight for each other. And I’ve grown closest with Emily Spears because we found out early that we are both Emily Grace and just got closer and closer after that.”
Some of the those great teammates won’t be back in 2022-23, but Mikkola believes the Bulldogs are still brewing something magical. The outlook for next year is sunny and Mikkola is even envisioning bookending her career at the same position where she learned to love the sport.
“We are losing our middle infield and an outfielder. It could be me or a promising freshman we had this year in one of the middle infield spots, so I could stay at third or slide to short to finish my career where it started,” said Mikkola. “We have some transfers coming in and actually had a starter in the outfield go out with an ACL injury, so if all goes well she will be back in the lineup (next year).
“We are losing some key players but we should be back to pick up where we left off and hopefully set some more records.”
With one more season to do something special, Mikkola already knows where she wants to end her career. She wants to be right back playing for a NAIA championship next May.
“I think this season was the spark to motivate us. We want to return to the World Series.”
This is the first in our series of Security Federal College Spotlights coming this summer. If there is an athlete you’d like to see featured, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org