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 NCAA West Super Regional and clinch a berth in the Division II Softball National Championships next week in Louisville, Ky.
Caitlin Brown's walk-off, solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning provided the difference in game one and Kirsten Willmon's RBI single in the bottom of the first inning was the contest's only run in game two.
UCSD (41-21) advances to the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive season and aims to become the first program to win back-to-back national championships since California (Pa.) accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998. UCSD went 4-0 last season at the 2011 NCAA Championships in Salem, Va. on its way to its first-ever 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. 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," said UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens.
The Tritons made it difficult for themselves for the second straight weekend, falling 4-3 to the Toros in yesterday's opening game of the Super Regional. UCSD also tripped up in its opening game at last weekend's West Region II tournament in Seaside, losing to No. 3-seed Dixie State, 3-2.
However, UCSD rebounded with four straight wins at the West Regional and then bounced back with consecutive wins over 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 two, 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 to find itself at the plate, stranding seven runners over 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 NCAA Tournament.
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, .545) and a .727 slugging percentage in the series.
Charly Swanberg hit .333 (3-for-9) in Carson, while Brown was 3-for-11 (.273) with two runs. Mya Romero and Emily McQuaid had 10 and nine assists in the field, respectively.
UCSD will face South Region champion Valdosta State (52-4) on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in Louisville. Valdosta State came into the week as the No. 1-ranked team in NCAA Division II, garnering all 16 first-place votes in the NFCA National Poll. The Blazers downed Florida Southern in consecutive games at the South Super Regional to advance to the NCAA Championships.
CSUDH, the co-regular season California Collegiate Athletic Association champion, finishes the season at 45-15 overall.