The UC San Diego softball team erupted for three runs in its final at-bat, using a two-run single from Tess Granath and an RBI single by Jennifer De Fazio to edge Cal State San Bernardino, 3-1, on Saturday afternoon to win the NCAA Division II West Super Regional title.
UCSD (41-13), top-seed and winner of the West Region, advances to May 26-30’s eight-team NCAA Division II Softball Championship in Salem, Va. The Tritons have already set the single season school record for wins and will be making their first-ever appearance at the Championship. No. 7 CSUSB ends its season at 35-24.
CSUSB starter Cassidy Lee (17-10) faced the minimum amount of hitters over her first six innings of work, but surrendered a lead off walk to Kris Lesovsky in the seventh to give the Tritons their first baserunner since the first inning. Taylor Sepulveda followed with a bunt to the third base line and beat the throw to first, putting runners on first and second with no out.
UCSD third baseman Sarah Woofter moved the runners to second and third with a hard groundout to the right side of the infield. With one out, UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens inserted Granath, who was 0-for-3 since her last hit on April 16, for freshman designated player Charly Swanberg.
Granath delivered, sending Lee’s outside delivery for a single into right field to drive-in Lesovsky and Sepulveda and give the Tritons a 2-1 lead.
“I just knew [Lee] was going to come outside so i just got closer to the plate and i knew it was coming,” said Granath.
For Granath, who came into the game hitting just .176 in 17 at-bats, the two-run single marked just her second and third RBIs this season. She usually earns her keep as the Tritons’ number two on the pitching staff, but a shoulder injury in early April prevented UCSD from using Granath’s services on the mound. In 14 starts, Granath is 7-5 with a 2.27 ERA, fourth-best in the California Collegiate Athletic Association.
“Tess has great hitting mechanics, but we didn’t use her a lot because we had to favor her pitching,” said Gerckens. “She had been hurt and we didn’t want that to interfere with her pitching. I just knew we had to go all out today, I was really impressed with her in practice this week so we had to give her a shot.”
Jennifer De Fazio recorded her team-leading fifth RBI of the NCAA tournament, picking up Granath from second with another single into right field off the CSUSB left-hander. Lee escaped the inning after De Fazio was doubled-up at first on a stellar play by third baseman Alex Mitchell on a line-out from Katrin Gabriel.
Armed with a 3-1 lead, Camille Gaito (31-4) forced Stef Pace into a groundout to Woofter before giving up a one-out single to Court Wilhelms. After Alyssa Flores flied out to Sepulveda, Gaito notched her first strikeout of the day on Mitchell to end the game and send the Tritons to the DII Championship.
“This team doesn’t give up. To have Tess come up and get that hit, it doesn’t get any more clutch than that,” said Gerckens. “Then ‘Faz came up and made an adjustment and it was a beautiful hit. It’s always good to get that third run.”
The win ties Gaito for UCSD’s school record for career victories (61) by a pitcher and is her fifth of the NCAA Tournament. She has worked all 39 innings of the West Regional for the Tritons, giving up just a single run in each of her five starts while positing a 0.54 ERA and limiting opposing hitters to just a .196 average.
For UCSD, Saturday’s last-inning heroics mark the fourth time in five games in which the Tritons have earned the deciding-runs in their final at-bat. In the First Round on May 13, UCSD used back-to-back squeeze bunts in the bottom half of the sixth inning to edge Central Washington, 2-1. The next day, De Fazio laced a two-run single in the top of the 11th to make the difference in a 3-1 ballgame over Chico State. Sepulveda squeezed-home Gabriel for the game-winner in May 16’s 2-1 win over CSUC for the West Region 1 title game.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this,” said Gerckens. “I’m excited for the girls and the incredible coaching staff we’ve put together here. It’s a really overwhelming moment.”