ST. GEORGE, UTAH- The College of Central Florida softball team came up just short of winning its first-ever national championship.
After winning two games earlier on Saturday, the No. 8 Patriots fell in the championship game 8-5 to No. 10 Angelina (Texas) on Saturday afternoon in the NJCAA National Championship Game.
CF started the day off with a 6-3 win over Chattanooga (Tenn.) State and then got past Angelina 6-2 to force the winner-take-all final.
The Patriots (48-15), though, saw the Roadrunners (42-12) score four times in the third keyed by a three-run homer by Melissa Boland (3-for-4, four RBI).
Autumn Hanners (8-5) took the loss in the championship game, but won three games in the national tournament and had allowed just one earned run in 26 innings of work before the tournament's final game when she allowed five in 2 2/3.
CF's Amy Szymanowski reached a pair of home run milestones on Saturday, which included breaking the all-time state career home run record and tying the all-time national tournament home run mark. Szymanowski's home run in the opener against Angelina was the 38th of her career and enabled her to pass Lake City Community College's Monique Marier (1999-2000) and Chipola's Katie Harrison (2013-2014) for the most ever in Florida JUCO History.
Then in the championship game, Szymanowski became the fourth player to hit four home runs in tournament play. The FloridaState signee became the first to hit four in tournament play since Wallace (Ala.) State's Michel Robertson accomplished this in 2012.
Angelina's Samantha Moore (19-6) earned her second win of the tournament over CF and finished the event at 3-0, but not before the Patriots made things very interesting in the latter innings.
Down 8-1, CF tried to battle back behind a solo homer by Cheyenne Blaha and an RBI single by Amber Acsota got it to within five in the sixth.
In the seventh, Blaha had a two-out single and scored on a two-run homer by Lindsay O'Steen to pull to within 8-5. Szymanowski was hit by a pitch and Hanners singled to bring the tying run to the plate in Jordan Lane, whose solo homer in the seventh inning against Santa Fe sent the game into extra innings in the state tournament, drew a walk that loaded the bases.
For the tournament, the Patriots were led by O'Steen (9-for-24, five runs scored, homer), Blaha (8-for-22, eight runs scored, five RBI, two homers, two doubles), Szymanowski (6-for-17, seven runs scored, seven RBI, four homers, reached base 10-of-23 times) and Caylee Underwood (6-for-17, five runs scored, three RBI, homer) led the Patriots at the plate.
During the postseason, O'Steen (21-for-45, nine runs scored), Blaha (13-for-38, 12 runs scored, two homers, six RBI) and Szymanowski (11-for-31, 12 runs scored, four homers, 13 RBI, reached base 22-of-41 plate appearances) were the top hitters for CF.
Offense aside, pitching was a difference-maker for the Patriots in getting to the final game of the tournament.
The Patriots turned to Taylor Bowen (20-7) to get them to the winner-take-all final.
Bowen, who hadn't pitched in the national tournament until Saturday, came up huge for CF with her effort in the circle and snapped a 15-game winning streak for the Roadrunners.
The Florida Southern signee's last outing took place on May 3, but she pitched her first complete game since March 13th and tied her season-high with eight strikeouts. Bowen was able to get out of a bases-loaded jam with two outs in the top of the seventh when she got Katelyn Barker to fly out to Underwood. For the game, Bowen allowed two runs on seven hits and walked just two.
She got plenty of support, as O'Steen (3-for-4, run scored, double), Blaha (1-for-4, run scored), Szymanowski (1-for-3, run scored, two RBI, home run), Jordan Lane (1-for-4), Hanners (1-for-3, home run, run scored, two RBI), Morrow (1-for-4), Jessica Nathan (2-for-3, run scored) and Underwood (2-for-3, run scored) helped the Patriots pound out 12 hits.
CF got off to a quick start, as O'Steen ripped a two-out double and scored two batters later when the Roadrunners threw the ball away at third off a shot hit by Jordan Lane.
After Angelina's Taylor Harper tied the game at 1 with a solo homer in the second, CF's Szymanowski made her presence felt.
With two outs and one on after a single by Blaha, Szymanowski ripped her state record-setting homer of the day off Angelina's Gia Johns (19-4).
Nathan singled to lead off the fourth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Burchfield.
From there, Underwood singled to center and an outfield error allowed Nathan to score for a 4-2 lead for the Patriots.
Things continued to go well for CF.
Hanners, who was 4-for-24 in the postseason entering the Saturday's second game, smacked her 10th homer of the season with a solo shot in the fifth, as CF extended its lead to three runs.
The freshman from Winter Park Lake Howell also walked with the bases loaded in the sixth for the final run for the Patriots.
In the opener, the Patriots eliminated Chattanooga (Tenn.) State with a 6-3 win.
CF won both games against the No. 4 Tigers (55-8) in tournament play and rallied from an early two-run deficit.
Jamie Nelson (17-2) went the distance and Blaha hit the go-ahead three-run homer in the second for the Patriots.
Blaha (2-for-2, two runs scored, three RBI) led CF at the plate, while Nelson, who had pitched just three innings in the tournament, allowed two earned runs on nine hits.
Nelson, who lasted just two innings in her first start of the tournament in CF's opener against Lake Land (Ill.) made the pitches and trusted in her offense, which saw the No. 4-7 hitters break out of a tournament long 5-for-40 slump.
Trailing in the second inning, Burchfield had a single and Underwood, which set the stage for Blaha, who delivered the go-ahead home run and ripped her third extra-base hit of the tournament.
The Patriots added two more runs in the fourth.
Lane ripped a one-out single and scored on a run-scoring double by Hanners, who entered the game 1-for-10 in the tournament.
From there, Nathan delivered an RBI single for her first hit in 11 at-bats in the tournament for a 5-2 lead.
CF pushed its lead to 6-2 in the fourth, as Blaha single and stole second, which set the stage for Szymanowski for a run-scoring single.
The Tigers scored once in the sixth, but Nelson shut them down and won her ninth consecutive decision.
Szymanowski (1-for-3, RBI), Lane (1-for-3, run scored), Nathan (1-for-2, RBI), Lizzy Burchfield (1-for-2, run scored), Hanners (1-for-3, RBI, double), Taylor Morrow (1-for-3) and Underwood (run scored) backed Blaha at the plate for CF, which avoided losing consecutive games for the first time since March 20 against Santa Fe.
Despite being unable to complete a 3-0 mark on Saturday, the Patriots made a lot of history during their run.
CF's athletic program was trying to claim its second national title in as many years and its fifth overall national title.
Had the Patriots won, it would have been the first for the school in women's athletics at the Division I level. CF won a Division II National Title in 2001 in women's tennis.
Prior to Saturday, the only other time that CF had played for a national championship in women's athletics were in 1992 and 1997 when its basketball team lost in the national title games.
Fagan was trying to become the first coach in his first year as the head coach of a program to win a national title since the now-defunct Lake City Community College program won in 2001 under coach Mickey Webb.
Unlike Lake City, CF wasn't a national power until this season and has grown from a program that won just 14 games three years ago and won just two state tournament games entering last year's Atlantic District Tournament where it finished as runner-ups.
The Patriots had never finished higher than fourth place in the Mid-Florida Conference in their history, but just missed becoming the fourth Florida program to win a national softball title and the first since 2010.
CF was the first from the MFC to play in a national title game since 2008 when Santa Fe lost in the national championship game.
To get to where they needed to be, the Patriots downed the Saints 8-7 in 11 innings in the state tournament and put all the memories of a 3-36 record against SFC entering that game over the past decade behind them.
On its way to winning the national title, CF downed two teams ranked No. 1 in the country (Indian River in the Atlantic District final and Arizona Western in the national tournament), but were unable to get past an Angelina squad, which knocked it off 4-2 on Friday night, before it dropped the first game of the doubleheader between the two schools on Saturday and failed to become the second straight No. 8 seed to win the national title.