MELBOURNE, Fla. -- Florida Tech freshman Rachel Pence accomplished a feat only a few will ever experience, firing a five-inning perfect game in the Panthers’ season-opening 10-0 victory against Fort Valley State on Saturday at Nancy Bottge Field.
Pence, a right-hander from Jacksonville, Fla. and Creekside High School, struck out 10 batters on only 50 pitches. She fell behind in the count only once, never had a three-ball count and never allowed the ball to leave the infield in the dominating performance.
“It’s funny because the pitchers and catchers sat down last week to put together goals,” Pence said. “One of our goals was to throw a perfect game. Obviously, that’s an outcome goal and you need to trust the process."
Ahead 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning, the offense sent 11 batters to the plate to score seven runs on five hits and three Fort Valley State errors. Junior transfer Elizabeth Eby came through with a big two-run triple down the right-field line to score sophomore Ashley Montion and freshman Jessica Callahan. A collision on a fly ball to center field allowed pinch-runner and freshman Audrey Gangloff to score the 10th and final run of the game.
“It’s a great way to start the season,” head coach Val Silvestrini said. “The first couple of innings, I felt that we were a little nervous. We broke through in the fourth and did what we needed to do to win this game. It went so fast, I wasn’t expecting it to end in the fifth inning. I’m really proud of the team. This is the best way to set the tone for the season.”
Needless to say, Silvestrini was proud of Pence’s performance.
“She’s been doing great in practice and that’s where we evaluate our kids,” she said. “We thought she was the best pitcher to start this game. We gave her a chance and we’re really proud of her. I told her ‘if I was a pitcher, I would’ve loved if my first college game was a perfect game.’”
As she was pitching throughout the game, Pence said she never thought about not giving up a hit.
“No, I was just thinking about retiring the next batter,” she said. “We’ve worked a lot on mental training, taking one pitch at a time and one batter at a time. It doesn’t matter if we just struck out the side because we have a new inning. I never thought ‘Oh, they haven’t had a hit or wondered how many strikeouts do I have?’ I just thought of taking one pitch at a time and working, slowly.”