PENSACOLA-- One win away from its first-ever trip to the NJCAA National Tournament, the College of Central Florida will stare down the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.
The Patriots (42-12) will take on Indian River State (43-13) on Monday morning at 11 a.m EST with a trip to nationals at stake.
CF needs only one win over the Pioneers to advance to nationals and a spot in the FCSAA State Championship Game against either Polk State or Tallahassee, which would be played later on Monday.
Indian River, meanwhile, needs to knock off the Patriots twice on Monday in order to qualify for nationals. If the Pioneers win the opener, the second game will be played 30 minutes following the conclusion of the first game.
CF puts itself in a great position to make its first-ever national tournament appearance with an 8-7 win over rival Santa Fe in 11 innings. The loss dropped the Saints into the loser's bracket where they watched IRSC shut out Lake Sumter State and then were victims to the Pioneers, who have won four straight games since a 1-0 loss to Seminole State in their tournament opener.
Overall, the Pioneers have allowed just two runs in five games during the tournament. They'll face the highest scoring team in the tournament to this point, as CF has totaled 25 runs in three wins.
This will be the third matchup for the Patriots against Indian River since 2009. Five years ago, CF opened the state tournament with an upset of the Pioneers, who were also ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time.
Last season, Indian River took advantage of CF's struggles with runners in scoring position and earned a 2-0 opening round win. From there, the Patriots won four straight games before losing to Santa Fe in their first-ever Atlantic District Championship.
A year ago, Santa Fe had the edge, but this time it will be CF in the driver's seat heading into the tournament's final day.
Leading the way for the Patriots has been Lindsay O'Steen, who is 10-for-15 in the tournament, aided by a 5-for-7 performance against Santa Fe on Sunday. Amy Szymanowski (3-for-6, five RBI, home run), Autumn Hanners (2-for-8, home run, four RBI), Jordan Lane (two hits that either tied or gave CF the lead), Jessica Nathan (4-for-12, two homers, five RBI), Cheyenne Blaha (3-for-10, reached base in six of 10 plate appearances), Lizzy Burchfield (two doubles, two runs scored against Santa Fe), Caylee Underwood (three runs scored) and Taylor Morrow (3-for-6 against Santa Fe) have backed O'Steen so far in the tournament.
Hanners gave CF a huge boost by going all 11 innings in the win for the Patriots over Santa Fe.
"It was (CF assistant coach Mike Lingle's idea) to start (Hanners)," said CF coach Kevin Fagan, who had used Hanners in relief over the second half of the season. "She is very confident and she went out and battled for us.
This will be the second meeting of the season between CF and Indian River. The Patriots lost the first matchup 6-4 on the final day of a tournament in Vero Beach to the Pioneers. In that game, CF committed a season-high six errors and also struck out 11 times. It was the only time this season the Patriots have struck out in double digits. In that game, Szymanowski (3-for-4, run scored), Morrow (2-for-4, run scored) and Lane (2-for-3) were the leading hitters for CF.
Indian River pitcher Lissette Garay went the distance and allowed four runs on eight hits.
Alexandra Ortiz (1-for-3, run scored, two RBI, home run), Amber Atkinson (2-for-3, run scored, triple), Shelby Duncan (2-for-4, run scored, RBI) and Brittany Propri (1-for-3, two runs scored) were the top hitters for the Pioneers against the Patriots.