West Florida has come from behind all through the postseason and they did it again Friday, scoring seven runs in the final two innings and beating the Florida Tech Panthers 7-1 in the NCAA South Super Regional.
The loss puts a cap on a Panthers season that is the best in program history. They finished with a record of 42-12 overall, earning their first Sunshine State Conference title, with a record of 23-7. The Panthers won three games in the NCAA Region 2 Tournament, earning the right to face the Argonauts.
Staff ace Melanie Murphy (25-7) got the ball again for the Panthers on Friday, and as she did in Thursday’s series opener, she held UWF in check until the late innings and held a 1-0 lead into the sixth.
The Panthers run came in the first inning when Cheyenne Nelson led off with a single and later came around to score on a Jaden Kline base knock. The Panthers looked poised to add on, but a rocket off the bat of Vanessa Rubio was snared by the shortstop, she stepped on the bag at second and threw home to complete the triple play, and get the Argos out of the inning, down 1-0.
Murphy (25-7) needed just nine pitches to get through the second inning and she worked in and out of trouble in the third, when UWF had runners at second and third with one out, only to see Murphy retire the next two batters and get out of the inning.
Argos starter Grace Gilbert (24-4) was doing her part to keep her team in it, as she retired 11 in a row at one point before Tina Velazquez stroked a single to right with one out in the fifth to break the streak.
Meanwhile, Murphy was cruising. She got through the fifth inning, allowing just two hits and three baserunners. Unfortunately, things went south in the sixth. With one out and a runner on, Jacquelynne Poling hit one to short that was bobbled and then thrown away, putting runners at the corners for West Florida. A gutsy call saw Kathleen Smiley lay down a squeeze bunt which Murphy fielded, but her flip couldn’t be brought in by Kline and the game was tied 1-1.
A hit-by-pitch then loaded the bases for the Argos. A force out at the plate was good for the second out, but Grace Gilbert then roped one to left field that Nelson dove for and had it go just under her glove and roll to the wall. It was a great effort by Nelson, but it cleared the bases and gave West Florida a 4-1 lead.
The Argos (53-9) added three more runs in the seventh, thanks to a two-run single by Poling and an RBI single by Ally Merrill, gave them a commanding 7-1 lead. Kline led off the Panthers half of the seventh with a single, giving her two of the Panthers four hits on the day. Unfortunately, that was all the Panthers could muster, as West Florida moved on to the NCAA National Championship tournament.
For more info: West Florida @ Florida Tech Box Score (NCAA South Super Regional Game 2)
Murphy gave it her all in this one, giving up nine hits, walking two and striking out none. Only three of the seven runs the Argos scored were earned. When all was said and done, Murphy threw 115 pitches, 75 for strikes.
This was definitely not the way the Panthers wanted this season to end, but what a season it was. So much history made and they pushed the top-ranked Argos to the brink on both days.
Congratulations to all of the young ladies that made this a very exciting, historic season. Thank you to coach Val Silvestrini and the players who granted us interviews all throughout the season. It was an absolute privilege to cover this team and we look forward to doing it again in 2020.