Sun Devils, Aggies to square off in best-of-three championship series

Updated: June 1, 2008, 11:38 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- At 5 feet tall and a slender 100-or-so pounds, Jackie Vasquez wasn't known for hitting home runs. Until she put Arizona State in the Women's College World Series finals with one swing.

Vasquez hit a three-run home run after slugger Kaitlin Cochran was hit with a pitch, leading the Sun Devils to a 3-1 win Sunday against Alabama and its first chance to play for the national championship.

"It felt really good when I hit it," said Vasquez, a senior who hit only the sixth home run of her college career. "Not that I've hit tons and I know the difference, but I definitely felt like it was going somewhere when I hit it."

The Sun Devils will face fifth-seeded Texas A&M (56-8) in the best-of-three championship beginning Monday. The Aggies beat top-seeded Florida 1-0 on Kelsey Spittler's RBI triple down the right field line in the ninth inning.

The Gators (70-5) had won three straight elimination games, including a 6-1 victory against Texas A&M earlier Sunday to force a rematch.

Vasquez's blast sailed over the right-field wall, giving the sixth-seeded Sun Devils (64-5) their first hit of the game off Kelsi Dunne.

Dunne (26-6) had hit Kristen Miller to start the third inning and then drilled Cochran in the leg on a 1-1 pitch with two outs to give Arizona State its first two baserunners. She allowed only two other runners -- on a walk and an infield single with two outs in the sixth.

"We got one big hit," Arizona State coach Clint Myers said. "If you're not going to get a lot of hits, one good timely hit can make all the difference -- and again it was our 5-foot-nothing, 103-pound nothing little slapper that once again got the big hit for us."

Katie Burkhart (39-5) limited the nation's highest-scoring offense to only two hits, including Jordan Praytor's RBI single in the top of the third, to end the Crimson Tide's best run in five trips to the World Series.

"It wasn't a home run that lost the game. It wasn't," Alabama third baseman Kelley Montalvo said. "We have one of the strongest lineups in this country. We have to hit the ball."

Texas A&M will have to decide what approach to take against Cochran, the 2007 batting champion who's hitting .443 but has sparked the Sun Devils' offense without getting a hit.

Dunne's free pass to Cochran sparked a seventh-inning rally for Arizona State in the teams' first meeting at the World Series two days earlier, and Cochran scored two more times after getting free passes in a 4-0 victory against UCLA.

Dunne went after her this time, retiring her on a first-inning fly out and a seventh-inning popup.

"It wasn't really a strategy. A buddy of mine texted me and said, 'Dude, it's not Derek Jeter. Come on.' And I was like, 'You're right.' She isn't hitting 1,000," Tide coach Patrick Murphy said. "She's a good hitter, and we got her twice."

The junior center fielder has scored four of Arizona State's nine runs in the World Series, the first three times coming when she was walked intentionally to start an inning.

By the time Dunne got her to fly out in the first inning, it had been 11 plate appearances since she last saw a strike.

"I just feel like I'm living a dream right now," Cochran said. "We're so close to our ultimate dream, but we know we still have work to do and we're just going to do whatever we can to make sure it happens."

The Sun Devils also made it to the World Series the past two years, but got eliminated in three games in 2006 before being the first team sent home last year.

"We were two and barbecue and we've got three wins here," Cochran said. "That's just like a complete turnaround in itself. Everyone's been stepping up. Like coach Myers said, a different hero every day."

Texas A&M 1, Florida 0, 9 innings

Megan Gibson (41-2) threw a seven-hitter and Kelsey Spittler squeezed a line drive just inside the right-field line to send Texas A&M to the Women's College World Series finals for the first time since its championship season of 1987.

Macie Morrow grounded a two-out single through the right side off NCAA wins leader Stacey Nelson (46-5) to set the stage for Spittler's first career triple, which bounded past Mary Ratliff in the right-field corner.

"Kelsey Spittler and Macie Morrow were 0-for-the-World Series and you know what? They don't remember any of those other at-bats that they didn't get a hit," Texas A&M coach Jo Evans said. "They remember that they stepped up there and did a job for us and gave us a chance to play for a national championship."

Spittler had been 0-for-10 in the Series and Morrow was 1-for-10 before the last two hitters in A&M's lineup came through in the clutch.

After back-to-back singles to start the bottom of the ninth, Gibson (41-2) got Ratliff to ground into a double play and Megan Bush to pop out to end the game.

Gibson also pitched around three straight one-out singles in the sixth inning, escaping from the jam by getting Francesca Enea to ground into a force play and Ali Gardiner to fly out to left field.

Jami Lobpries had a diving catch of Kristine Priebe's floater to shallow center to start the inning.

"Megan Gibson was vintage Gibson. She is so tough out there and she just willed this to happen," Evans said. "When we couldn't put runs across -- we set the table several times and couldn't get a big hit -- she was the one that hung in out there and gave us a chance. She gave us a chance to find a way to score a run."

Florida, which got two home runs from Enea in Game 1 against the Aggies to stay alive, finished the season with three more wins than any other school in NCAA history.

"It's tough to lose but I don't know that any team has or ever will go 70-5," Gators coach Tim Walton said. "It's just unbelievable."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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