AKRON, Ohio — It was the most exciting moment in Terri Lamoree's career, and the Cal State Northridge senior right fielder almost didn't see it while she kneeled in the on-deck circle Saturday at Buchtel Field.
"I had so many tears in my eyes, I couldn't see the ball," Lamoree said. "It's a good thing I didn't have to hit."
Lamoree cried out of happiness as she wiped away the tears to watch teammate Kelly Winn's blast to center field float over the head of Bloomsburg's Joanie Lewis. Winn's one-out double drove in Nancy Lucero from second base and capped a remarkable four-run seventh-inning rally that gave CSUN a 5-4 win and a shot at its fourth consecutive NCAA Division II World Series title.
To win the championship, CSUN (50-11-1) must sweep Stephen F. Austin in a doubleheader that begins today at 1:30 p.m. (EDT). Austin defeated Bloomsburg on Saturday, 3-1, and beat CSUN on Friday, 2-0, to advance to the final.
"That's what nationals does to you," said Winn, who had two hits against Bloomsburg and an RBI in CSUN's 2-1 win over Northeast Missouri earlier Saturday. "It makes you play different than you have ever played in your life."
No one connected with the Lady Matadors could remember a finish as wild or unexpected as CSUN's rally against Bloomsburg (42-5). As late as the sixth inning, CSUN trailed, 4-0, and its reign as champion seemed over.
"Around the sixth inning, I was thinking, 'Well, I guess No. 3 in the nation isn't that bad,' " said CSUN center fielder Barbara Jordan, who scored the tying run on the Lady Matadors first squeeze play of the season. "Then I just sort of kicked myself and said, 'Wait a second, it's not over yet.' "
But it certainly didn't look good for the Lady Matadors, who had never bounced back from a deficit as large as four runs in the history of the program, according to CSUN Coach Gary Torgeson.
The Lady Matadors began their comeback in the bottom of the sixth, scoring once to cut Bloomsburg's lead to 4-1. With one out, Lucero doubled off pitcher Jill Solinski, who was replaced by Chris Moyer, who had allowed only one earned run in 103 innings this season. Moyer retired Winn on a groundout, but Lamoree followed with a single that scored Lucero.
That set the stage for a seventh inning that was hauntingly familiar to the Bloomsburg team. Last season, on the same field, Bloomsburg blew a 4-1 lead to Akron in the seventh inning that eliminated the Huskies from the Eastern Regionals.
"I think our players were distracted by those memories," Bloomsburg Coach Jan Hutchinson said. "They got a little nervous when things started happening in the seventh."
Solinski re-entered the game for the seventh inning and promptly hit Barbara Flynn with a pitch. Lori Shelly and Jordan followed with singles, and Flynn scored the first run of the inning when Solinski let the throw from left field roll past her to the backstop following Jordan's single.
With Shelly at third and Jordan at second, Beth Onestinghel drove in her 32nd run of the season with a groundout to second to cut the lead to 4-3.
Up came Lucero, who not only had to block out the bars of the face mask she wears to protect her broken nose, but also Jordan, who was dancing around third base, begging Torgeson to put on the squeeze play.
"We practice that play all the time," Jordan said. "I'm always yelling at Coach, telling him to use it."
With the count 2-and-0 to Lucero, Torgeson used the play for the first time this season. Lucero dropped a bunt down the first-base line that easily scored Jordan to tie the game, and when the throw to the plate got by catcher Cindy Freeland, Lucero moved to second to set up the game-winning hit by Winn.
"Unbelievable," Torgeson said. "The first squeeze of the year and it works. We were going for all the marbles."
Earlier Saturday, Delanee Anderson and Kathy Slaten combined to beat Northeast Missouri, and Torgeson chose to pitch Lisa Martin against Bloomsburg, saving Slaten for relief.
Martin's first pitch against Bloomsburg was laced to left field for a single by leadoff hitter Karen Hertzler. Two outs later, All-American first baseman Jean Millen deposited a Martin pitch over the left-field fence for her eighth home run. It was the first home run a CSUN pitcher had surrendered this season.
The Huskies added two more runs in the third inning to give them a 4-0 lead. That cushion seemed to be more than enough for Solinski, who had entered the game with 11 consecutive shutouts. But when the game was over, Slaten, who replaced Martin in the fourth, was the pitcher with the victory.
"I just wanted to end my career with a good feeling," said Slaten, who earned the win to go along with a save against Northeast Missouri. "Coach just told me to go for it."
Slaten made no attempt to spot the ball in the strike zone, preferring just to wind up and fire away. The result--eight strikeouts, one hit, no walks and an opportunity today to match her four-time All-American honors with four national titles.
CSUN's Kathy Slaten and Stephen F. Austin's Pam Clay are the probable starting pitchers for today's first game. . . . Today's games will be broadcast live over KCSN 88.5 FM beginning at 10:25 PST. . . . CSUN will try to become the first team to win the Division II title after losing the first game of the national tournament. . . . Members of the Austin team sat in the stands during the CSUN-Bloomsburg game and taunted the Lady Matadors. "We're going to shut them up," Nancy Lucero said. . . . Beth Onestinghel had an ice pack on the back of her neck after the Bloomsburg game. "I hurt it coming out of the dugout to celebrate," Onestinghel said. "Is that lame or what?"