May 24, 2009

Courtesy of California Athletics

GAINESVILLE, FLA - The No. 14 California Golden Bears softball season came to a close Sunday with a pair of losses, 2-0 and 2-1, to the No. 1 Florida Gators. Shannon Thomas scored the lone run for the Bears.

The Bears and Gators were originally slated to start their series as a prime time, single game on Saturday night. Torrential rains throughout Central Florida caused the game to be postponed until Sunday. After consulting weather reports, the teams decided to move up the start time of the double header to 10 a.m. in order to give the teams a better chance of playing both games.

The rescheduling gave the teams prime weather conditions. Though muggy and with temps reaching above 80 degrees in the second game, rain was not a factor for the first time in nearly a week.

Junior Marissa Drewrey took the circle in game one for the Bears. Drewrey battled the first hitter of the day for the Gators, Aja Paculba, who fouled off pitch after pitch against Drewrey. The 14th offering from the Bears starter stayed fair, a shot over the left field wall to give Florida a 1-0 lead.

The lead wasn't the only thing the Bears lost in the bottom of the first. Cal's leading hitter, freshman left fielder Jamia Reid, injured her hamstring in the top of the inning trying to run out a fly to center field. Reid went back out in the bottom of the first, but after running back to the wall to try to chase down Paculba's ball, she realized she couldn't continue and left the game.

Florida added another run in the bottom of the second, with a lead off hit coming around to score on a wild pitch.

Drewrey retired the Gators 1-2-3 in the third and fourth innings, finding her grove. Drewrey was replaced by sophomore Valerie Arioto in the fifth inning after beginning to feel ill. Arioto closed out the game, facing the minimum. The Bears pitched combined to retire the final 13 batters of the game, not allowing a Gator aboard after the second inning.

With the Gator's Ace Stacey Nelson throwing for Florida, the Bears offense stalled. They outhit the Gators 4-3 and had the leadoff runner aboard in four innings, but timely big hits didn't come against Nelson.

The Gators took the opener 2-0, sending the Bears on the defensive in the second game of the double header, the "elimination game" of the Super Regional.

Facing Florida's No. 2 pitcher, Stephanie Brombacher, the Bears struck in the bottom of the first. Junior second baseman Shannon Thomas stole second to put herself in scoring position with one out. She scored on a throwing error by the short stop to give Cal a 1-0 lead.

Arioto, Cal's only pitcher available for the second game because of Drewrey's illness, pitched a gem. In the afternoon humidity, she threw the complete game, limiting their potent offense to just four hits, striking out six in her seven innings of work. However, a rough third inning for Arioto gave Florida their chance. After hitting the lead off batter with a pitch, their second hitter walked, putting two on with no outs. A sac bunt moved them both up into scoring position. A double to left plated the two runs and gave Florida the 2-1 lead.

After Arioto doubled in the bottom of the third to start the frame for Cal, Florida put their ace Nelson back into the game. Arioto was stranded at second.

The Bears had another scoring chance in the sixth. Back-to-back singles by Thomas and senior Gina Leomiti gave the Bears a pair of base runners with no outs. A pitcher-to-third-to-first double play put two quick outs on the board and fired up the Florida team and fans. Florida got out of the inning without allowing a run.

In the seventh, it looked like the Bears might have another chance when junior short stop Taylor Kelly rifled a shot down the third base line. The third baseman defensively threw up her glove, accidentally deflecting the ball that was headed to the outfield. The short stop picked up the ball and threw out Kelly. The Gators retired the final tow Bear hitters, sweeping the series and advancing to the College World Series for the second straight season.

The Bears season ended at a Gainesville Super Regional for the second year in a row.

The Bears finish the year with a record of 38-20. Florida improves to 60-3 on the season.