PENSACOLA-- Despite its 4-1 loss to Tallahassee Community College in the FCSAA State Championship Game, the College of Central Florida softball team has qualified for the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time in school history.
Facing TCC (41-13), the state's No. 1 team and the No. 6 team in the latest NJCAA National Poll, the Patriots did several uncharacteristic things.
CF hadn't committed an error for its first 31 innings of the tournament spanning four games, but made three over the first two innings and trailed 4-0.
"We had a good tournament overall, but had a couple of bad innings (early against TCC)," said Patriots coach Kevin Fagan. "We hit two balls over the fence (that were taken away by Eagle outfielders for long fly outs) and hit four to the outfield fence overall.
"We played great defense after the first two innings and wished we wouldn't have kicked it around early on.
"Still, we played pretty strong for the three days. We are looking forward to nationals."
The Eagles, who lost their first game of the tournament and had to win six straight elimination games to get to the state championship game, also didn't allow a hit to CF for the first 3 2/3 innings of the game.
CF had only been retired in order once over the first 32 innings of the tournament and 21 straight dating back to its second game win over Seminole State.
The Patriots just missed closing to within one in the third, as Amy Szymanowski sent a blast to deep center, but was robbed of a three-run homer by TCC's Taesha DuBoise.
TCC, which needed two wins over Polk State on Sunday, got those by scores of 4-2 and 5-2.
Mariah Rivera, who earned the save in the second Polk game, started for the Eagles against CF and came up with her fourth victory of the tournament.
Rivera (21-5) went seven innings and allowed one run on five hits.
The Patriots made things tough on the Eagles, as Amy Szymanowski came up with a run-scoring single with two outs in the top of the seventh inning.
Rivera, though, got out of a two-on, two-out jam for the win.
The hit by Szymanowski was the only one in 13 at-bats for CF's No. 1-4 hitters.
Coming into the game, CF's No. 1-4 hitters were a combined 23-for-55 (.418), but four fly balls during the ball reach as far back as TCC's outfielders could go and turned into long outs.
Rivera also gave up another three-run homer in the sixth off the bat of Morrow, but the TCC outfield took away another homer.
CF's Taylor Bowen (19-7) didn't allow an earned run, but the three errors helped TCC score four runs off the Florida Southern signee.
Bowen walked two and struck out one in 1 1/3 innings.
Hanners, who went 11 innings and threw over 150 pitches in the 8-7 win over Santa Fe on Sunday, took over and kept her team in the contest.
She tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out seven.
For the tournament, Hanners made three appearances and stuck out 14 in 17 innings of work.
She didn't allow a run over her final 10 innings of work in the tournament.
Leading the way for CF at the plate in the tournament were Lindsay O'Steen (12-for-23 five runs scored, three doubles, two RBI), Cheynne Blaha (reached base 9-of-17 plate apperances, 5-for-16, four runs scored), Szymanowski (5-for-11, five runs scored, home run, five RBI), Nathan (5-for-19, five runs scored, three homers and six RBI) and Hanners (10 walks, one home run, four RBI).
Szymanowski ended up her two trips at state by going 11-for-28 with four homers and 11 RBI.
She reached base in 28-of-45 plate appearances over her two years and drew 12 walks.
Earning all-tournament team honors for CF from the Atlantic District were Szymanowski, Nelson, O'Steen and Blaha.
Meanwhile, Nelson, Szymanowski, Blaha and O'Steen were named to the all-FCSAA Tournament team.