LOUISVILLE, Ky. -
The No. 24 UC San Diego softball team's bid for back-to-back national titles fell one game short as No. 1 Valdosta State took the NCAA Division II Championship, 4-1, on Saturday afternoon at Knights Field on the campus of Bellarmine University.
The Tritons rattled off three consecutive wins in elimination games while in Louisville to advance to the championship game, but were held to just three hits against VSU pitcher Alanna Hadley (34-4).
VSU (58-5) dropped its first contest of the NCAA Championship to UCSD on Wednesday, but rattled off five victories to capture its first national title in program history.
"There were times [this season] that I couldn't imagine being here. [Our players] were fighters, and I'm so proud of them," said UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens. "We lost to the number one team in the country, they were good, and they deserved to win this game."
VSU center fielder Courtney Albritton led off the bottom of the first with a home run and VSU extended its lead to 2-0 on a dropped fly ball in the fourth inning.
UCSD (45-23) cut the lead in half with a two-out rally in the fifth, loading the bases before an illegal pitch from Hadley brought home Kirsten Willmon. Hadley recovered to force Mya Romero into a pop fly in foul territory to end the inning.
VSU placed runners on second and third with one out in the sixth. Clare Wamsley, who struck out on Wednesday with runners on second and third to end the ball game against Camille Gaito, singled into right field on the first pitch to drive in April Collins and Natalia Morozova to make it 4-1.
The Tritons did not go away quietly in their last at-bat, however. Pinch-hitter Jennifer Manuel was hit by Hadley and Willmon came through with a one-out base hit. Caitlin Brown, who hit a home run in the morning game against No. 2 Central Oklahoma, stepped to the plate as the game-tying run.
"I was liking [our chances] with Caitlin at the plate. She has done an unbelievable job in the postseason for us. I thought hey, if anyone can hit a home run it could be her," said Gerckens.
After a battle at the dish, Brown grounded a slow-roller to shortstop Marti Littlefield. With two-down, Hadley forced UCSD catcher Charly Swanberg into a ground out at third to end the ballgame.
UCSD stranded nine runners on the base paths, compared to six for the Blazers.
Despite the loss, Gerckens remained optimistic about her team's accomplishments:
"Our regular season was mediocre, but our postseason was tremendous. We extended it by three weeks, had more games than ever before, and overall it was a great season. Only one team can end with a win and unfortunately this year it wasn't us."
UCSD won 45 games for the second year in a row, matching the school record set in 2011. The Tritons went 10-4 in the NCAA Tournament and won the California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament title for the first time in program history. Gerckens' squad survived nine consecutive elimination games during the tournament run prior to the national championship game.
Gaito, Romero and Kris Lesovsky earned All-Tournament Team for their performances at the NCAA Championship.
Gaito (33-12) pitched all 51.1 innings for the Tritons, giving up just nine earned runs while limiting hitters to a .242 average. The senior right-hander will graduate as UCSD's all-time leader in wins, saves, appearances, innings, strikeouts and complete games. She went 98-31 with a 1.10 ERA over four seasons.
Lesovsky was 9-for-21 (.429) with three runs, three RBI and a pair of doubles at the NCAA Championship. The senior from Simi Valley, Calif. will graduate as UCSD's all-time leader in batting average, hits, RBI, runs, doubles and walks.
Romero, a sophomore, was 5-for-20 and contributed 17 assists from the shortstop position. Her 177 assists this season are a single-season school record.
Along with Gaito and Lesovsky, seniors Tess Granath and Anne Wethe will graduate at the end of the school year.