LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kris Lesovsky
collected three RBI, none bigger than her game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the No. 24 UC San Diego softball team kept its quest for consecutive national championships alive with a 4-3 win over No. 2 Central Oklahoma at the NCAA Division II Championship on Friday evening at Knights Field.
UCSD (44-22) and UCO (46-8) will square off on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. PDT with the winner advancing to the national championship game against the victor of No. 1 Valdosta State and No. 3 Kutztown.
UCSD had a 2-1 lead with Central Oklahoma down to it's last out in the top of the seventh inning, but UCO's Nathalie Timmermans launched Camille Gaito's (32-11) 0-1 pitch over the left field fence to give the Bronchos their first lead of the game, 3-2.
Nicole Spangler drew a walk to lead off the Triton half of the seventh and gave way for pinch-runner Annie Heskett. Monique Portugal attempted to bunt her over, but Portugal's first two attempts were unsuccessful. The freshman responded with a sharp single off the glove of the UCO third baseman to put runners on first and second.
After Emily McQuaid's sac-bunt put Heskett and Portugal in scoring position, Lesovsky lifted a high fly ball to center field. Kayce Raines corralled it for the out and fired home, but Heskett slid under Timmermans' tag to tie the score at 3-3.
Gaito retired the next six Broncho hitters, giving UCSD an opportunity to win in the ninth. UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens then put the game in Lesovsky's hands, directing Portugal and McQuaid to move Spangler to third base on back-to-back sacrifice bunts.
Lesovsky, UCSD's all-time leader in hits and RBI, delivered with a two-out single through the left side, scoring Spangler to extend UCSD's season.
"[Our players] do not want to go home. They're absolutely just scratching, crawling, and doing whatever they need to do to stay in this tournament to the very end," said Gerckens.
"Spangler had two unbelievable at-bats. She put herself on with a walk [in the seventh] and then a hit [in the ninth] and those happened to be the game-tying and winning runs."
The right-arm of Gaito has carried UCSD so far at the NCAA Championship; the senior has pitched all 38.1 innings over four games to this point - a total of 557 pitches. 294 of those deliveries came on Friday. Furthermore, UCSD's last three contests have gone nine innings or more.
"I can't say enough about Camille. She is a workhorse and I know how bad she felt when she gave up that home run," said Gerckens. "But, it shows what her team does behind her - they just fought back. I'm so proud of her and the team. This was a gigantic win."
The Tritons have won eight consecutive elimination games during this NCAA Tournament run, including four at the West Region II tournament and two at the West Super Regional, respectively.
Another win over UCO will give the Tritons an opportunity to do what no other Division II team has done in 14 years - win back-to-back national championships.
"[UCO is] a great team. We have some idea of what they're about. We're going to come out here, give it everything we've got, and hopefully we'll come out winners," said Gerckens.
Lesovsky started the scoring with a one-out double down the left field line to score McQuaid in the bottom of the third. Lesovsky moved to third on Kirsten Willmon's infield single before taking home when Timmermans' throw to second on Willmon's stolen base sailed into center field.
UCO's Kacie Edwards homered in the top of the sixth to make it 2-1.
UCSD is 6-4 in extra-inning ballgames this season.