SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Sophomore Jessica Barnes (Winter Haven, Fla./Haines City HS) went 3-for-3 with a three-run homer and tournament MVP freshman pitcher Shelby Morgan (High Springs, Fla./Santa Fe HS) earned a six-hit shutout as FGCU defeated Kennesaw State, 8-0, in six innings to claim the 2012 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship Saturday afternoon at USC Upstate’s Cyrill Stadium.
“Kennesaw State is a very good ball club and they are a good hitting ball club,” said head coach Dave Deiros. “For us it was a matter of making sure that we tried to get us out of trouble. They let the lead-off get on in about five out of their six innings. It was a matter for us to get some good pitches and make some good plays.
The No. 1 seeded Eagles claimed the title after going a perfect 3-0 in the championship with victories over #5 Jacksonville (8-4), #6 Stetson (2-0) and #2 Kennesaw State (8-0, 6th inn.). The Green and Blue are heading into their first-ever NCAA regional on a six-game winning streak and have gone 16-2 in their last 18 games.
“For our entire university and for our athletics program it’s huge, but also for these kids,” said Deiros. “We put them together with the idea that they will be tournament ready in their second year together, and that’s what they have shown. They’ve evolved they’ve grown up and gotten better at what they’re doing. We’re not ready to go home just yet.”
The Eagles will find out their regional site, seed and opponents Sunday night when the NCAA Tournament field is released live on ESPNU at 10 p.m. (ET). The regional round is set for May 17-20, with super regionals set for May 24-27. The eight-team NCAA Women’s College World Series will take place in Oklahoma City, Okla. (May 31 to June 6).
The Eagles’ softball team will be hosting a selection show party at the Beef O’ Brady’s restaurant in Estero, Fla. off Ben Hill Griffin Parkway and fans are welcome to attend with the team arriving around 9:30 p.m.
Morgan finished her ninth shutout of the season and earned her 22nd win after throwing six shutout innings, allowing just six hits with six strikeouts. The Owls' Abbey Mixon took the loss after allowing three runs in one plus inning of work. Barnes picked up a season-high five RBI and scored two runs. Sophomore Brittney Garabedian (Miami, Fla./Gulliver Prep HS) had a stellar game with a 2-for-2 effort and three runs scored.
FGCU got an early run to take a 1-0 lead as Barneswalked to lead off the game. Barnes stole her 25th base of the season to put herself in scoring position. Junior Mariah Fernandez (Cape Coral, Fla./North Fort Myers HS) worked a walk after an illegal pitch allowed Barnes to move to third with no outs. Sophomore Emily Lanier (St. Cloud, Fla./Harmony HS) laid down a perfect squeeze bunt as Barnes slid under the tag to give the Eagles the lead. The Owls prevented further damage in the inning after getting a strike out and two fly outs.
In the bottom of the second, junior Kayla Gabel (Lakeland, Fla./State College of Florida) walked to start the frame, while Garabedian worked another walk to put runners on first and second with no outs. Sophomore Regan Knapik (Land O’Lakes, Fla./Wiregrass Ranch HS) sacrificed both runners over to second and third with one out. Barnes followed with a clutch three-run home run to left field to give FGCU a 4-0 advantage.
Sophomore Chelsea Zgrabik (Venice, Fla./Venice HS) gave the Green and Blue a 5-0 lead after a solo home run on the first pitch in the bottom of the third inning. Zgrabik picked up her 13th blast of the season and second of the A-Sun championship.
Garabedian lead off the bottom of the fourth with a double to left field, while Knapik moved Garabedian over to third thanks to a sacrifice bunt. Barnes singled up the middle for her fourth RBI of the game to give FGCU a 6-0 lead.
In the top of the sixth, Kennesaw State’s Lindsey Vollmer grounded out to Knapik to give her 139 assists on the season, a new FGCU record that was previously held by Christine Beck in 2003.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Green and Blue ended the game with two more runs to finish the game in six innings. The Eagles started the frame with back-to-back hits from Garabedian and pinch-hitter Tori Williams (Dunnellon, Fla./Dunnellon HS). With runners on first and third, Barnes earned another RBI with a single through the left side. After an out, Lanier lined a single to left field to load the bases for Zgrabik. This time Zgrabik singled to left field to win the game and the championship for the Eagles.
Live stats, in-game Twitter updates (@FGCUSoftball), results and recaps will be available at www.FGCUAthletics.com.
2012 Atlantic Sun Conference All-Tournament Team: Tournament MVP: Shelby Morgan, FGCU Mariah Fernandez, FGCU Jessica Barnes, FGCU Chelsea Zgrabik, FGCU Jessica Cross, Kennesaw State Lindsay Vollmer, Kennesaw State Abbey Mixon, Kennesaw State Courtney Brandt, Stetson Meredith Owen, Stetson Mollie Mitchell, Lipscomb Sarah Sigrest, Jacksonville