FORT MYERS, Fla. – With the start of the 2012 softball season fast approaching, FGCU softball is celebrating its 10th season of competition by counting down the Top 10 Moments in FGCU softball history.
The Eagles competed at the Division II level for their first five seasons, qualified for the postseason in two of their three eligible seasons, transitioned to Division I, joined the Atlantic Sun Conference, produced three Conference Players of the Year and three All-Americans, and won 382 games. After poring over more than 500 games of history, a panel selected the most significant events and will release one each day leading up to the first pitch of the 2012 season.
Starting the countdown at No. 10 - "The 2004 comeback victory vs. North Florida in extra innings” (Feb. 7 and 8, 2004)
To start their second season, the Eagles traveled to Jacksonville to play at the Osprey Invitational. The tournament would be a good test for FGCU as the participants were some of the better Division II teams in the Southeast. After splitting their first two games of the tournament, FGCU was scheduled to face the tournament host UNF in a game scheduled to begin Saturday night at 7 p.m. Rain and the length of games earlier in the day delayed the start of the game until 10 p.m. To make matters worse, the temperature dropped below 40 degrees making the wait to get the game started even more uncomfortable.
“It was freezing cold and I remember all the parents were all bundled up in blankets, while all the players had hand warmers in their pockets,” said junior centerfielder Ashley Cecil (Spencer).
This was not the first time that the Eagles had battled against the currently undefeated Ospreys—UNF had traveled to SW Florida the year before and soundly swept the first-year FGCU squad and, with most of their team back again, UNF was heavily favored to win this game as well. In the top of the second, UNF took advantage of four hits and three errors by the FGCU defense to score four unearned runs off of starter Nicole Werhner. With only one out and the bases still loaded, Werhner made the biggest pitch of the game—she induced an inning-ending 6-4-3 ground ball double play to end the damage at 4-0.
“I knew right then that it was the biggest play of the ballgame,” said head coach David Deiros. “UNF had a great chance to break open the contest and we would have had a very difficult time coming back from a greater deficit in such adverse conditions away from home. That defensive play swung the momentum back in our favor and gave our offense a great springboard to get started.”
FGCU started chipping away at the Osprey lead immediately. Freshman Ashley Congdon led off the bottom of the second inning with a triple to right center field and scored on sophomore Christine Beck’s RBI groundout. With one out in the bottom of the third, Cecil and fellow junior Kristy Ringler (Sewell) attempted a double steal and Cecil would score when the throw to third base went to left field. Ringler later scored on junior Blaire Toleman’s RBI single to cut the deficit to one run. When Jessica Rouse tied the score in the bottom of the fourth, the stage was set for an exciting second half of the game.
Werhner kept UNF scoreless until two hits and three Eagle errors allowed two runs to score in the top of the sixth. Freshman pitcher Annie Voyles came on in relief with two outs and a runner on second base and induced a groundout to end the inning without any further damage. Down 6-4, sophomore Natasha Meyer led off a wild bottom of the sixth with an infield single. After Meyer moved to second on a fielder’s choice, Ringler was hit by a pitch bringing senior catcher Lindsey “Boomer” Ijjas to the plate with runners on first and second. Ijjas drove the first pitch she saw to left center for a double that easily scored Meyer and moved Ringler to third. Toleman was clutch again with a single to right field that drove in Ringler to tie the game, when junior Kelly Powe, who had come in to pinch run for Ijjas, was thrown out by a great throw to the plate while trying to score the lead run. Meanwhile Toleman was thrown out at second by the catcher when she tried to advance. When the dust settled, both teams entered the seventh inning again tied at six runs apiece.
Even though the FGCU defense made a whopping nine errors on the game, they again came up with a huge defensive play in the top of the seventh inning to save the day. With runners on first and third and two outs, sophomore shortstop Christine Beck made a spectacular stop on a hard hit ball that deflected off of third baseman Rouse’s glove and threw out the hitter at first base to end the inning with no runs scored. When FGCU stranded Beck at first to end the bottom of the seventh, the game was sent to extra innings and the International Tie Breaker would come into play. In the top of the eighth, another Eagle error allowed UNF to score an unearned run off Voyles and take the lead 7-6.
With Voyles placed on second to start the FGCU half of the eighth, Meyer laid down a sacrifice bunt and advanced to second when Voyles beat the throw trying to get her out at third base. Ijjas again came to the plate after an infield single and a fielder’s choice loaded the bases but failed to tie the game. At 12:45 a.m. Sunday morning, Ijjas promptly lined a single between the third baseman and shortstop which easily scored Meyer from third, brought home the speedy Cecil with the winning run from second and started a wild celebration by the young Eagles.
“I was exhausted after that game but, most importantly, we won the game and we realized we were a team that could compete and win against anyone,” said Cecil. “This game was memorable for so many reasons,” said Jessica Rouse. “We were playing late at night, in extra innings and in what felt like freezing temperatures. We were physically and emotionally tired from the intensity of the game, yet we never gave up and we never lost our intensity. We beat a team that we were not supposed to beat in some of the worst and most demanding conditions. Not much beats that feeling.”
“Whenever I reminisce with anyone on the 2004 team, the conversation always comes back to this game,” added Deiros. “It was a physically demanding game because of the lateness of the hour and the elements and an emotional rollercoaster against a talented, veteran team. I know I’ll never forget it.”
The Green and Blue would go on to win 41 games in 2004 (their first of five 40+ win seasons) including streaks of 16 straight home wins and 25 straight games without a loss.
FGCU opens its 10th season for the fifth consecutive year at the USF Tournament where they will face the tournament hosts and No. 2 University of Florida on Friday, Feb. 10th.
The Eagles will unveil one moment per day for 10 consecutive days, and culminating with the No. 1 moment on Feb. 10th to coincide with the start of the season. You will be able to relive all the events at www.fgcuathletics.com/softball.