Florida eliminates UCLA; Alabama finishes two-time champ Arizona
OKLAHOMA CITY -- For the first time in more than two decades, neither of college softball's traditional powers will be playing for the national championship.
Francesca Enea had an RBI single and Kim Waleszonia scored on a first-inning error by pitcher Anjelica Selden as Florida eliminated second-seeded UCLA with a 2-0 win Saturday night in the Women's College World Series. Two-time defending champion Arizona and World Series newcomer Virginia Tech were knocked out in earlier games.
UCLA and Arizona have combined to win 19 national championships, including one by the Bruins that was vacated by the NCAA, and at least one of the schools had been in the World Series finals every year since 1986.
Until this year.
The semifinals will feature fifth-seeded Texas A&M against Florida (69-4), which also knocked out Virginia Tech with a 2-0 victory earlier in the day to stay alive, and Arizona State against either Louisiana-Lafayette or Alabama, which ended Arizona's three-peat bid with a 5-1 victory Saturday.
For the Bruins, the current four-year drought is the longest stretch without a World Series title since NCAA play began in 1982.
"UCLA and the College World Series go hand in hand, and to be able to come out on top against them in the losers' bracket with our backs against the wall is a tremendous accomplishment for our whole team," Gators coach Tim Walton said.
UCLA (51-9) was undone by the same sort of play that led to its first-round victory. Ali Gardiner hit a comebacker to Selden (29-5), and she fumbled the ball while trying to take it out of her glove and flip it to first. Waleszonia scored from second as the ball bounced into right field.
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"I scooped it and it just got caught in my glove," Selden said.
The Bruins' run in their opening win against Arizona came after pitcher Taryne Mowatt made a first-inning throwing error.
Now both teams are headed home.
"It's tough when Arizona and UCLA match up in the first round for either of us to get to the championship. We've got to do some work," UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said.
In 2000, Oklahoma became the eastern-most team to win the national title, and Michigan took on that moniker in 2005. Now Florida and Tennessee have joined Alabama as powers to be reckoned with from the SEC.
But Walton cautioned that the demise of the softball powers shouldn't be overstated.
"Obviously, Arizona and UCLA aren't going to win the title this year but until somebody really does something about it, parity hasn't set in," Walton said. "The West Coast has dominated this sport for a long time, and to be honest with you, we're just happy to compete another day."
Enea stretched Florida's lead to 2-0 in the sixth inning with a single down the left-field line to score Le-Net Franklin, who pinch ran and stole second after Gardiner's two-out single.
Stacey Nelson (47-4) gave up five hits in her second shutout of the day and her 18th of the season.
Alabama 3, Louisiana-Lafayette 1
Brittany Rogers scored on a wild pitch and Alabama (58-7) used three unearned runs to squeeze out its second win of the day.
Rogers walked, stole second, moved to third on a passed ball and then scored on a wild pitch in the first inning, and the Tide tacked on two more runs in the fifth courtesy of errors by pitcher Donna Bourgeois (16-5) and first baseman Gabrielle Bridges.
"We didn't play the best defense possibly that we could have played. It's not very characteristic of this team to have those situations happen, but they did. And in the past we've been able to come back and just keep adding on to the run production," Lafayette coach Stefni Lotief said.
Holly Tankersley provided the Ragin' Cajuns (52-15) only run with her 23rd home run of the season to lead off the sixth but the game was then delayed 1 hour, 37 minutes after lightning was sighted in the distance. Raindrops never fell on the field.
"It's just a monumental task when you have to sit out for an hour and wait for the weather, but it is what it is. We can only control the things we can control," Lotief said.
Tournament officials considered calling off the game if it didn't restart before midnight, but instead decided to let it resume at 12:04 a.m. After Alabama threatened to extend its lead in the bottom of the sixth, Charlotte Morgan (18-2) retired the Cajuns in order in the seventh.
"I appreciate the NCAA doing that because there were some questions, and we all wanted to play tonight for sure because we were hoping it would be just one complete inning, and it turned out to be that way," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
Alabama 5, Arizona 1
Brittany Rogers had the go-ahead bloop double in a four-run sixth inning, and Charlotte Morgan homered and drove in three runs for Alabama.
Rogers' looping liner landed just beyond the outstretched glove of diving shortstop K'Lee Arredondo and spun away from left-fielder Brittany Lastrapes to allow Ashley Holcombe to score from second. Alabama then added three more runs against Mowatt (29-15), the Arizona ace who'd been wild but effective over the first five innings.
Morgan added a two-run single and Kelley Montalvo had an RBI double as the nation's highest-scoring offense came through while Kelsi Dunne (26-5) kept Arizona from adding to its NCAA-best home run total.
Mowatt was the star of Arizona's gritty run to the championship last season, throwing more than 1,000 pitches in a World Series-record 60 innings as the Wildcats won five games while facing elimination.
"This year, the luck was not on our side," Mowatt said. "Alabama got the key hit when they needed it, they had balls falling in where nobody was, and that's basically what happened."
Florida 2, Virginia Tech 0, 9 innings
Mary Ratliff hit a two-run double as Florida finally broke through against Angela Tincher, the national player of the year.
Gators Turn 68
With Florida's win Saturday over Virginia Tech at the Women's College World Series, the Gators won their 68th game, setting an NCAA record. Here's a look at the winningest college softball seasons:
"She was everything we thought she was," Ratliff said. "We talked coming in that she was going to get her strikeouts. There just comes a point when you have to make adjustments. Thankfully at my last at-bat I was able to do that."
Nelson saved the Gators' season after Waleszonia misplayed Erin Ota's fly ball to center field to start the seventh inning, allowing Ota to go all the way to third. Nelson walked the bases loaded before getting Kelsey Hoffman to ground into a double play and Jessica Everhart to ground out to second.
Tincher (38-10), who no-hit the U.S. Olympic team in March, didn't get any run support in the World Series -- the Hokies had two shutout losses.
"We've just had a lot of fun getting here to the World Series and ending my career here," said Tincher, a senior. "I wish we would have won, but I don't think I could ask for too much more."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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