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.
Coming in at No. 9 - "The 2007 Walk-Off Win against No. 17 Valdosta State” (May 12, 2007)
FGCU was playing in their last season at the Division II level before moving on to Division I and the Atlantic Sun Conference. FGCU entered their final postseason opportunity for five years (while they served the mandatory NCAA provisional period) as the No. 3 seed in the South Region. After being upset in their opening round game, the Eagles needed to survive a series of elimination games in order to reach the Division II World Series. Their second elimination game would be a matchup between two top 20 teams--the No. 11 Eagles versus No. 17 Valdosta State, the regional tournament hosts. Valdosta State had surprisingly eliminated the Eagles from the Regional Tournament the year before so this was a big game for both teams.
If the stakes and history between the two teams were not enough, just add that the games were being played in the midst of the worst wildfires in the histories of both Florida and Georgia. The fire had reignited near Valdosta earlier in the week and a smokey haze had settled over the softball stadium that afternoon.
"It really felt like we were playing softball in a barbecue grill,” said head coach David Deiros. “Even though we were playing in the middle of the afternoon, it was dark and gray and you really couldn't get a clean breath of air.”
Junior pitcher Rachael Edinger got the start for the Eagles and Valdosta State put the pressure on immediately with an RBI single that barely missed going over the fence giving VSU a 1-0 lead. Edinger avoided further trouble by ending the inning with a strikeout stranding runners on first and second base. The Eagles would quickly tie the game in the bottom of the first as leadoff hitter, senior Rachel Homan, hit a full count home run over the centerfield fence for her 18th homer of the season. FGCU also got runners on first and second later in the inning but could not take the lead.
The Eagles had chances to again take the lead in the bottom of the second and third innings but were thwarted each time by strong defense by the Blazers. In the second, freshman rightfielder Jessica Gary led off the inning with a slap single to left and proceeded to steal second base. With one out, sophomore designated hitter Christa Piquette laced a shot that surely would have been extra bases if the Blazers' centerfielder had not made an amazing catch and doubled Gary off at second base. In the bottom of the third, sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Jenks hit a one out single bringing junior third baseman Carmen Paez to the plate. She was promptly plunked on the first pitch in the back of the helmet with a high inside fastball.
“Carmen did a great job of defusing a possibly tense situation by quickly springing to her feet and jogging to first, she was our fiery leader and we took a lot of our emotional cues from her,” said Deiros. “She ran to first with no reaction meaning “lets keep playing.”
Senior leftfielder Jessica Rouse hit a ball that nearly left the yard but just turned into a long single loading the bases with one out. Sophomore catcher Desiree Miller ripped a line drive to right field that was caught in the air and Paez was doubled up to end the inning and keep the score tied at 1-1.
Edinger had retired seven consecutive Blazers until a leadoff walk in the top of the fourth inning. After two quick outs, three consecutive singles scored two runs for Valdosta State to give them a 3-1 lead. Their lead would hold up until the bottom of the fifth inning when Homan led off the frame with a single to left field. One out later, Paez drilled a 1-0 pitch deep over the left field fence for her NCAA-record 28th homer of the season. The score was again tied at 3-3 and everyone was gearing up for a fantastic finish.
The Eagles had a chance to win in the bottom of the seventh as Jenks and Paez both hit one out singles. Miller again had a chance to drive in a big run with runners on second and third but her fly ball to deep left field barely missed being a walk-off homer and sent the elimination game to extra innings. FGCU repeated the feat in the bottom of the eighth inning when they again stranded runners on second and third with two outs.
The Blazers got to Edinger in the top of the ninth inning with two singles sandwiching a sacrifice bunt. It was time to make a change and FGCU brought in sophomore pitcher Dana Frantz to get them through this jam. A full count walk loaded the bases but Frantz was able to strikeout the next hitter looking for the second out of the inning. She then induced a ground ball to Jenks at shortstop to end the inning. Trouble averted, the stage was now set for the bottom of the ninth heroics.
Jenks lined her fourth hit of the game to start the inning, a solid single to right field. Paez would follow with a rocket shot to right center, her third hit of the game. The ball hit the fence in the air and would have cleared it if it were two feet higher. Jenks raced around from first, slid under a high relay throw to score the winning run, and ignited a bench-clearing celebration.
Buoyed by this big victory, the Eagles would win two more elimination games in the tournament before finally falling in the regional championship game. The Green and Blue led the nation in wins in 2007 with 62 (a program record) including a streak of 26 consecutive victories and a 32-2 record at home. They set a school record of 87 home runs on the season (second best in the country that year) with three players in double figures--Homan, Rouse, and the record-setting Paez. They boasted two 29-game winners in Edinger and Frantz along with the national save leader in Edinger. They also achieved their highest national ranking in program history--FGCU peaked as high as No. 5 in the country and ended the season ranked No. 10.
FGCU opens its 10th season for the fifth consecutive year at the USF Tournament where they will face the tournament host 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.
No. 10 – Comeback victory vs. UNF in extra innings in 2004
No. 9 – Walk-off win against #17 Valdosta State in 2007