Arizona breaks loose with 5-run fifth, wins 8th NCAA softball title
OKLAHOMA CITY -- After throwing more than 1,000 pitches in a week to lead Arizona to its eighth NCAA softball title, Taryne Mowatt finally admitted the obvious.
"Now that the week is over, I can admit I'm extremely tired now," said Mowatt, who set a Women's College World Series record by pitching 60 innings.
"My arm, it's felt better."
But it was well worth it.
Mowatt (42-12) finished what she started and Arizona's batters broke loose against Tennessee ace Monica Abbott for a 5-0 victory Wednesday night.
"I can't remember seeing a gritty performance by an athlete as this young lady gave us because everything was on her shoulders and she did it," said Wildcats coach Mike Candrea, who also coaches the U.S. Olympic team and counts Jennie Finch and Alicia Hollowell among his former players at Arizona.
The top-seeded Wildcats (50-14-1) lost the opener in the best-of-three championship series, then bounced back to win the final two games.
Mowatt (42-12) pitched every inning of the tournament for Arizona. Michigan's Jennie Ritter held the previous record for innings pitched with 53 in the 2005 World Series.
It was scoreless in the fifth inning when Arizona scored all five runs. Jenae Leles hit a two-run single and Chelsie Mesa added a three-run homer.
Arizona, which needed help from an error to break Abbott's 43-inning scoreless streak in Game 2, got several key hits against the hard-throwing lefty this time.
Caitlin Lowe, Arizona's speedy leadoff hitter, started the fifth inning by reaching on a slapped grounder back to Abbott (50-5). K'Lee Arredondo followed with a single, and an error by right fielder Nicole Kajitani put runners at second and third.
Abbott then intentionally walked Kristie Fox, who tied the tournament record with 11 hits, to load the bases for Leles. It was the second time Abbott had pitched around Fox to get to Leles.
"They kept walking Kristie to get to me, so that was bugging me a little bit," Leles said. "I knew I just wanted to get the ball on the ground somewhere and get it through."
Leles' grounder made it through to center field to score the first two runs, and Mesa hit a 3-2 pitch over Kajitani's outstretched arms and the wall.
Mowatt broke the school record for wins in a season set by Hollowell in 2004.
After recording the final out on Shannon Doepking's grounder to third, the Wildcats celebrated by tossing their gloves into the air and piling on each other in the pitching circle. The NCAA championship trophy was rushed into the pile, and players then hoisted it in the air.
The Lady Vols (63-8) were trying to become the first Southeastern Conference team to win the national championship, while Abbott, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, was attempting to become the third pitcher to lead the nation in strikeouts and win a championship in the same season.
Both efforts were stunted when Tennessee couldn't produce with runners in scoring position. The Lady Vols stranded 14 runners in a 1-0 loss in Game 2 and another 12 in Game 3. They left the bases loaded in the third and sixth innings.
"The most important stat in the game is RBI, and that's kind of the thing that got us. We couldn't get the key hit when we needed it," Tennessee co-coach Ralph Weekly said.
Mowatt struck out Tiffany Huff looking to end the third inning and pinch-hitter Danielle Pieroni to end the sixth. Using a brilliant assortment of off-speed pitches, she fanned 11 to set the record for strikeouts in a World Series, pulling ahead of Abbott after Abbott had broken Hollowell's mark a night earlier.
Mowatt threw more than 1,000 pitches and eight complete games in the course of a week, leading Arizona back from the losers' bracket to win the title. She was chosen the series' most outstanding player.
"I just think the kid did a great job," Weekly said. "I have not seen anything like that -- that style of pitching. Obviously, I'm a great Monica Abbott fan, but she did a great job in this tournament.
"We did try and we did make adjustments, but she never showed us a pattern."
Abbott struck out seven in her final collegiate game, finishing a remarkable career as the NCAA record-holder in wins, shutouts, strikeouts and innings. But the 6-foot-3 lefty leaves Tennessee without a national title.
"One of the things that really bothers me is that sometimes a pitcher is judged on whether or not she wins a national championship," Weekly said. "I think anybody that saw the game last night knows that she pitched well enough to win a national championship."
"I just think that Monica's as good as any pitcher that ever threw in this game, and that's the way that I feel about it."
Arizona won back-to-back championships for the first time since its run of five titles in a seven-year span that ended in 1997. UCLA, which won the title in 2003 and 2004, is the only team to win consecutive titles since then.
Lowe had four singles as Arizona put its most pressure on Abbott in four games during the series -- two won by each team. Tennessee beat Arizona 1-0 in the preliminaries of the double-elimination tournament and 3-0 in Game 1 of the championship round.
But Arizona got the last two wins -- and the title.
The series set an attendance record for the fourth straight year, drawing 62,463 fans to break last year's mark of 46,122. Among those in attendance Wednesday night was Arizona football coach Mike Stoops.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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