Judi Garman, Cal State Fullerton softball coach, has been concerned in recent weeks as she watched Connie Clark, her star pitcher. Clark was putting too much pressure on herself, Garman thought, carrying too much of the load of being the defending NCAA champion.
So Garman and Clark's goal Friday night against Cal Poly Pomona in the first game of the best-of-three series in the NCAA West Regional was, as Clark put it, for her "to have fun."
What fun. Clark pitched a no-hitter, her second this season and the fourth of her career, as top-ranked Fullerton beat No. 12 Pomona, 4-0, in front of 800 at the Titan Softball Complex.
Clark (30-3) walked five and struck out four. It was the first time Pomona (42-22) has been no-hit this season.
"It felt good," Clark said. "I knew I had it going in the last inning and I tried to be really careful. I couldn't help it. It creeps into my head."
The winner of the series will advance to the College World Series next week in Omaha, Neb. Fullerton defeated Pomona in two games to advance to Omaha last year.
The Titans (56-8) avenged a loss to the Broncos last month that broke a NCAA-record 34-game winning streak and started a 12-6 late-season slump. Fullerton now leads the season series, 5-1.
"We worked hard all week for this," Garman said.
The Titans gave Clark a lead in the first when left fielder Chenita Rogers opened the inning with a single, went to second on a passed ball and scored on Tiny Glomboske's double down the right-field line.
Lisa Baker hit a two-run home run, her fourth of the season, in the sixth to give Fullerton a 3-0 lead. The Titans added an unearned run in the inning when Melissa Coombes, who had singled and gone to second on a single by Cathi Hall, scored after first baseman Kandi Burke dropped a throw from second base on a ground ball.
Pomona's most serious threat came in the sixth, when Burke, who is the only person to hit a home run off Clark in Clark's college career, lofted a 3-2 pitch to shallow right field with a runner on base. Titan right fielder Alani Silva came in to make a falling-down catch and preserve what was then a 1-0 Fullerton lead.
What had promised to be a pitching battle between Clark and Rhonda Wheatley, the Pomona pitcher who has won more games (139) than anyone in NCAA history, never materialized. Wheatley (35-20), who stopped the Titan winning streak with a one-hitter last month, allowed eight hits.
"She's had success against us when she's varied her speeds," Garman said. "Tonight, we didn't give her a chance to vary her speed. We hit the first good pitch we saw."
The teams meet in the second game of the series today at 1 at the Titan Softball Complex. A third, if necessary, will be played at 3 p.m.