Cal State Fullerton’s late-season softball surge rolled on in the NCAA playoffs Friday.
The Titans, who had lost three of four games to Washington in the regular season, packaged Jennifer Mortensen’s six-hit pitching with error-free defense to beat the Huskies, 2-1, in the opening game of the NCAA regional.
The victory was Fullerton’s 18th in the last 20 games and broke a four-game NCAA playoff losing streak. The Titans were eliminated in two games in the regional last year, and also lost their final two games in the 1992 tournament. Washington was ranked 10th in the nation; Fullerton is 20th.
Fullerton (33-27) plays at 10 a.m. today against top-seeded Cal State Northridge (47-7). The winner of that game will move on to Sunday’s final; the loser will play again at 3 p.m. Northridge, ranked third in the nation, blasted Maine, 8-0, in a game that was stopped in the fifth inning on the mercy rule.
The victory was a emotional boost to the Titans, who beat pitcher Stephanie Burns for the first time this season after losing to her, 5-0 and 2-1, in the regular season. This time she was the victim of four errors and an offense that left 11 runners on base.
“This is a big win for us,” Mortensen said. “There’s always a lot of emotion involved when these two teams play each other.”
The victory also buoyed Fullerton Coach Judi Garman’s hopes. “Our players really believe in themselves now,” Garman said. “They’re not falling apart in crucial situations the way they did at times early in the season. This team wasn’t expected to be here, but now I really think we can win this thing.”
Mortensen, who had early control problems, was strong under pressure. She walked two in the first inning but got away without allowing a run.
Washington did score in the second. Mortensen gave up a walk and a double to Leanne Rosser before another walk loaded the bases with one out. She got a force at the plate, but Shelly Brown’s slap hit between shortstop and third scored the run.
The Titans had given Mortensen a one-run lead in the second when Rose Garces singled and Heidi Robertson’s hit to left field was mishandled, allowing Garces to score. Fullerton scored the eventual winning run in the third when Jstone Vines reached base and advanced on a series of errors, scoring on Traci Fisher’s sacrifice fly.
Mortensen pitched herself out of trouble again in the fifth after giving up singles to the first two batters. Strong play on the infield by Fisher and Laurie LoForti also helped.
“I was a little nervous at the start because it was the regional, but I felt I pitched well from the fourth inning on,” Mortensen said.
Washington Coach Teresa Wilson felt the errors were costly. “Every close play went their way and if we score any of the 11 runners we left on base it’s a different game,” she said. “We just didn’t get the clutch hits.”