PENSACOLA- For the first time in school history, the College of Central Florida softball team is headed to the NJCAA National Tournament May 14-17 in St. George, Utah.
Jessica Nathan got CF's offense going with a solo homer to start the fourth and Jamie Nelson went the distance, as the Patriots knocked off Indian River State 5-2 on Monday at Exchange Park. Nathan recorded her third home run of the tournament and her fourth postseason blast of her career, as CF downed the nation's top-ranked team in the NJCAA Poll.
With the win, CF advances to the FCSAA State Championship Game later today against either Polk State or Tallahassee. TCC stayed alive with a 4-2 win over the Eagles on Sunday in the first game of the Gulf District Championship.
It is the second time the Patriots have downed the Pioneers in the postseason when IRSC was ranked No. 1 in the country. The last time CF accomplished this was in 2009.
Nelson (16-2) won her eighth consecutive decision and her second in the state tournament. The sophomore from Belleview High scattered six hits and held IRSC (43-13) scoreless over the first six innings. She needed just 90 pitches to down the Pioneers and any time she faced trouble, she was more than up to the challenge.
Nelson held IRSC to 0-for-9 with runners on base and worked ahead throughout the day. She received the support she needed when Nathan, a Florida A&M signee, continued her stellar play at state. The homer for Nathan pushed her career total to 10 runs scored at state and eight RBI.
Nathan's blast on the first pitch of the fourth inning gave CF momentum and Lizzy Burchfield followed with more clutch plays to help her team equal the amount of runs in one inning that the Pioneers had allowed over the previous five games in the tournament.
Burchfield drew a walk and stole second. From there, she moved up when the throw to second went into center field. Cheyenne Blaha then executed a squeeze bunt that plated Burchfield and gave CF a 2-0 lead.
The Patriots opened things up with a three-run effort in the seventh.
Blaha led off the seventh with a single and scored on a double by Lindsay O'Steen, who is now 12-for-19 in the tournament. After Amy Szymanowski was hit by a pitch, Jordan Lane delivered a run-scoring groundout. CF then added its third run of the frame on another error by the Pioneers.
Blaha (2-for-4, run scored, RBI), O'Steen (2-for-4, run scored, RBI), Szymanowski (1-for-3, run scored), Lane (1-for-4, run scored), Nathan (1-for-4, run scored, RBI) and Burchfield (run scored) led the way for CF at the plate.
The Patriots, who had won just two games at state all-time heading into last season, advanced to their first district final last season. This time around, CF got the job done. Pioneers looked to spoil the Lady Patriots' run by hitting a pair of solo homers in the seventh. Nelson, though, recorded her second strikeout and ended the game on a grounder to the circle.