Defending champ UCSD advances
Tritons looking to become first team to repeat since '97, '98
CARSON, Calif. -- One loss away from elimination in the NCAA tournament, sixth-seeded UC San Diego edged top-seeded Cal State Dominguez Hills in a pair of 1-0 games at Toro Diamond on Saturday afternoon to win the West Super Regional and clinch a berth in the Division II Softball Championship in Louisville, Ky.
Caitlin Brown's walk-off, solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning provided the difference in Game 1 and Kirsten Willmon's RBI single in the bottom of the first inning was the contest's only run in Game 2.
UCSD (41-21) advances to the championship finals for the second consecutive season and aims to become the first program to win back-to-back national titles since California (Pa.) accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998. UCSD went 4-0 last season at the 2011 Championships in Salem, Va., on its way to its first national title.
"I think the experience [of being in the NCAA Championships before] is going to be helpful, but this is a brand new team." UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens said. "We're not trying to defend [our national title], we're just trying to win another one. It's totally different chemistry and we're just excited to be going to the show again."
The Tritons made it difficult for the second consecutive weekend, falling 4-3 to the Toros in Friday's opening game of the Super Regional. UCSD also tripped up in its opening game at last weekend's West Region II tournament, losing to No. 3-seed Dixie State 3-2.
However, UCSD rebounded with four consecutive wins at the West Regional and then bounced back with consecutive wins against CSUDH with its back against the wall on Saturday.
Camille Gaito (29-10) earned the win in both games on Saturday, limiting the Toros to eight hits, no runs and a single walk over 15 innings. She saved her best for last in Game 2, surrendering just three hits in the contest and none after the third inning.
Gaito has pitched all 53 innings thus far for the Tritons in the NCAA tournament, posting a record of 6-2 and an ERA of 0.66. Opponents are hitting .192 off the senior right-hander and she's given up just five earned runs.
In Saturday's opening game, UCSD struggled at the plate, stranding seven runners in the first seven at-bats. The story was similar for the Toros, as CSUDH left six aboard.
The teams battled with no score through seven and a half when Brown came up with one-out in the bottom side of the eighth. On an 0-1 delivery from CSUDH reliever Stephanie Jimenez (26-7), Brown pounded a towering fly ball over the right centerfield fence.
The game-winner marked Brown's ninth home run this season and fourth of the postseason.
UCSD struck for the game's only run early on in the final game. Jimenez, who started in place of Lauren Harper, hit Lesovsky on the knee with her second pitch in the bottom of the first. Lesovsky took off for second on Jimenez's first pitch to Willmon, but CSUDH catcher Stephanie Hua's throw across the diamond sailed into center field to allow Lesovsky to take third.
Willmon followed with her fifth hit of the Super Regional down the left field line to bring in Lesovsky to make it 1-0. The sophomore left fielder led all Tritons with six hits (6 for 11) and a .727 slugging percentage in the series.
Charly Swanberg went 3 for 9, while Brown was 3 for 11 with two runs.
UCSD will face South Region champion Valdosta State (52-4) in its first game at the championship finals. Valdosta State came into the week as the No. 1-ranked team in Division II, garnering all 16 first-place votes in the NFCA poll. The Blazers downed Florida Southern in consecutive games at the South Super Regional to advance to the championship finals.