Tampa, Fla. - Hofstra junior Olivia Galati and USF pitcher Sara Nevins both pitched up to their reputations as staff aces while senior Michelle Lavagnino delivered the most important hit of her career, sending a RBI single to right in the top of the 11th that lifted the Pride to a 2-1 victory over No. 19 USF in Game 1 of the best-of-three Tampa Super Regional Friday night.
Galati (34-5) won her 32nd straight start, limiting the Bulls to just four hits while striking out five against just one walk in Hofstra's longest game of the season and first super regional contest in program history. Hofstra (42-13) set a school record with its 21st consecutive win overall is now one win away from the Women's College World Series.
Hofstra and USF will play Game 2 on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. followed by Game 3, if necessary, at 5 p.m. Both games will be televised by ESPNU. Live audio through Pride Zone and live stats can be accessed through GoHofstra.com.
Galati did not allow a hit from the third inning until the 10th, pitching in high humidity front of a USF Softball Stadium-record sold-out crowd of 1,561 in the nationally televised contest. Neither the ranked opponent nor the weather fazed her as Galati threw 135 pitches but had more strikeouts past the fifth inning (three) than before it (two). Galati has not lost since March 4.
Nevins (29-5), who logged 7 1/3 innings after starting the contest and re-entering after a pitching change, tossed 134 pitches and held Hofstra to seven hits while striking out nine against six walks.
The West Babylon, N.Y. native entered with the Division I lead in ERA at 0.91 and is now one win away from tying the NCAA Division I single-season record of 33 consecutive victories and saved her best for last, retiring the last five batters of the contest, including a 1-2-3 final inning against the 3-4-5 USF hitters to secure the win. The Pride is now the closest it's ever been to the WCWS since the 2004 squad lost to No. 7 Stanford in the final round of what was then an eight-team regional.
Hofstra received offensive contributions from the bottom of the order to break the deadlock in the 11th. Junior D.J. Slugh hit a leadoff single to center to start the frame. Slugh, who came in as a pinch-runner for Erin Trippi in the sixth and stayed in to bat in the designated player spot, registered her first hit since April 11.
Slugh then moved to second when the umpires called Nevins for her fifth illegal pitch of the game with nobody out. Senior Courtney Crews dropped a bunt down the first base line for a sacrifice, moving Slugh to third with one out before sophomore Tori Rocha walked to put runners on the corners.
Lavagnino then picked up her first RBI in 11 games at the most critical juncture of Hofstra's season, pulling Nevins' pitch to right to score Slugh without a throw. Hofstra loaded the bases with one out looking for insurance runs but Nevins escaped further damage with a double-play grounder.
Galati extended her school-record strikeout total to 1,010. USF didn't even get a base runner past second base from the fourth inning to the conclusion of the game.
The Bulls almost took advantage on a break when Janine Richardson struck out to start the ninth but reached on a passed ball. Galati got two pop outs and forced Laura Fountain to ground out to second to end the threat and send a Hofstra game to the 10th inning for the first time this season.
USF got the leadoff runner on in the bottom of the seventh when Kenshyra Jackson was hit by a pitch on a full-count. Stephanie Juergens pinch ran as the potentially winning run and was sacrificed to second on a well-placed bunt up the third base line.
Galati forced a fly out to right and punch hitter Sydney Dinelli came up. Galati left the runner on second, striking out Dinelli swinging to ensure Hofstra's first NCAA Tournament extra-inning contest since a 10-6 loss to then No. 6 Arizona in 12 innings in 2010.
Before the bottom of the seventh dramatics, Hofstra generated a chance in the top of the inning when ninth-hitting senior Michelle Lavagnino used her speed to beat out an infield single to short. Lavagnino, a slap hitter, got a good jump out of the box on the grounder, forcing shortstop Kourtney Salvarola to mishandle the ball. The play was ruled a single and junior Rachael Senatore moved Lavagnino to second on a grounder to third.
Nevins intentionally walked junior Becca Bigler with first base open. Galati pop up a rise ball foul but USF catcher Laura Fountain couldn't make the diving catch. With the reprieve, the runners advanced to second and third on a passed ball on the next pitch.
Galati then hit the ball hard on the ground but right to Jessica Mouse at third. The ground out kept the runners on base and Nevins maintained the tie by getting an inning-ending strikeout. Hofstra stranded 12 base runners total and USF left seven on base.
Hofstra jumped to an early start, scoring an opening-inning run for the first time in four NCAA Tournament games this year when Ziemba lined a hard-hit RBI single up the middle to score Bigler.
The Pride generated two hits and five batters reached base safely against Nevins in the top of the first, a potent start considering the southpaw entered with a 1.01 ERA and a .183 batting-average against. Senatore appeared to ground out to begin the game, though the umpires called an illegal pitch on Nevins to bring the count full.
Senatore walked on the next pitch and Bigler was hit by a pitch to put two runners on base. Following a fielder's choice, Ziemba followed with her second RBI in as many games for the 1-0 edge. Nevins recovered to leave three Pride players on base by getting a strikeout.
Hofstra's offense continued its patient at-bats to chase Nevins with none out in the third after Galati reached on a leadoff single and Ziemba walked. USF inserted right-hander Lindsey Richardson to get out of the jam and the reliever struck out the first two batters faced before inducing a fly out.
USF mounted its first sustained rally in the third when Alexis Nowell and Ashli Goff hit back-to-back leadoff singles. After a sacrifice bunt put two runners in scoring position, Mouse brought in pinch-runner Courtney Goff with a perfectly placed bunt on a squeeze to knot the score at 1.
Richardson kept Hofstra off the scoreboard, retiring two batters on fly outs sandwiched around hitting freshman Erin Trippi with a pitch. With two outs and pinch runner Slugh on base, USF put Nevins back into the game to face the left-handed hitting Pride sophomore Tori Rocha.
But on the second pitch of the inning, Nevins was called for her second illegal pitch of the game, moving Slugh to second and putting Rocha in a 2-0 count. Nevins rebounded to get the strikeout, sending the game to the bottom of the sixth still tied.
The Bulls made solid contact with the two batters in the
sixth, though Galati capitalized on the stadium's spacious dimensions (220 feet
to center), getting to fly outs to deep left-center before striking out Salvarola
for a 1-2-3 frame, sending it to the top of the seventh deadlocked.