May 28, 2010

By Wendy Parker
Special to

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's potent bats have been most deadly in the early innings this season.

The Bulldogs struck for three runs in the first inning Friday, including a two-run homer by Alisa Goler, then showed off their firepower again in their final two at-bats to beat California 7-0 in the first game of their NCAA softball super regional at the Georgia Softball Stadium.

Kristyn Sandberg also hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning for No. 6 seed Georgia.

The Bulldogs (47-11) tagged California ace Valerie Arioto, one of the national leaders in earned-run average at 1.26, for seven hits. The Golden Bears (44-18) managed just four hits off Georgia starter Sarah McCloud.

So Georgia is one win from making its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Women's College World Series. California, the No. 11 seed, will have to win two games Saturday to reach the CWS for the second year in a row and the 11th time in school history.

Play will begin at noon Saturday. If necessary, the final game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

"I'm proud of the way our team hit today," Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said. "We face good pitching all the time. It's a matter of battling and finding a good pitch to hit."

Georgia players said they had ample chances to do that against Arioto (21-9), who acknowledged she didn't have her best outing.

Goler said her team-high 15th homer of the season, which she cracked over the wall in straightaway center, came on a drop ball from Arioto that "was a good pitch to hit."

In the sixth inning, Megan Wiggins drove in the final two runs for Georgia with a long single to right-center. In the third, her leadoff single had extended her hitting streak to 19 games, one short of the school record.

"It was a great game for Georgia," California coach Diane Ninemire said. "We knew they were a good hitting team. We did make some contact with the ball, but we didn't get a lot of breaks."

The Golden Bears also missed several good chances to get on the scoreboard thanks to alert defensive play by Georgia. California's Vernae Sevilla lined into a 6-3 double play with a runner on first to start the second inning. In the fourth, Georgia second baseman Ashley Pauly snatched a hard shot from Frani Echavarria, then doubled up Jace Williams, who was leaning off second, to snuff out one of California's best rallies.

"It was awesome to get those," said McCloud (12-1), who walked four and struck out three. "The defense did a great job."

California catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt thought her team might have been "pushing it too much" in trying to make up for its early deficit. "We were trying to make things happen, and they just weren't happening," she said.

California, which blanked three opponents in the Columbus (Ohio) Regional, has been on the short end of lopsided results before. Early in the season, the Golden Bears were beaten 12-1 by Oklahoma. But since losing 8-0 April 30 at Arizona, California had gone 9-3 before Friday.

"That's been our challenge this year -- to be consistent," Ninemire said. "But I don't think you change your approach."

Ninemire said she was undecided on her starting pitcher for Saturday. Freshman Jolene Henderson, who pinch-hit in the seventh, has been California's second starter, going 9-3 with a 1.53 ERA.

Georgia's Harris-Champer also hasn't announced her Game 2 starter.

Erin Arevalo is 18-6 with a 2.49 ERA, and Alison Owen is 13-2 with a 2.30 ERA.