LOS ANGELES — The best defensive team in Cal State Fullerton history needed a routine double play to preserve its one-run lead over Missouri.
Instead, the ball dribbled out of second baseman Alexa Neil’s glove and Missouri took advantage of its second chance.
After Fullerton missed an inning-ending double play opportunity, the Tigers capitalized with a five-run fifth inning that turned a tight game into a 7-4 win in the first round of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional on Friday night at UCLA’s Easton Stadium.
The Titans, whose .976 fielding percentage is the best in program history for a single season, will fight to continue their season in Saturday’s elimination game at 5:30 p.m. against the loser of No. 2 UCLA and Weber State. Missouri advances in the winner’s bracket to play at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
“We have the mindset of winning the next pitch,” CSF head coach Kelly Ford said. “It was a really competitive game, it was a great softball game and we came up on the short end of it and I just feel really excited about tomorrow and our most important game is right in front of us.”
Missouri catcher Hattie Moore led the Tigers (33-23) with two home runs and six RBIs, including a towering grand slam off the top of the scoreboard in left field that chased CSF starter Dani Martinez in the fifth inning.
Martinez gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to Moore, but then retired eight of the next 10 batters. Just when she appeared to be settling into her postseason debut, the Big West Conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year unraveled after the failed double play attempt that left runners on first and second with one out. She gave up a single, a double, a walk and then the decisive grand slam before being pulled for Taylor Dockins.
Martinez gave up seven hits and a career-worst seven earned runs in 4-2/3 innings.
“I’d say today probably wasn’t my best day but also I think it was just kind of like a wake-up call for me,” Martinez said. “I know tomorrow, obviously, I’ll bounce back. I’ve flushed this out already, and it’s over my head.”
The Titans (38-17) are trying to advance to their first NCAA Super Regional since 2007. The four-time defending Big West champions have played at the UCLA-hosted regional for four straight years, advancing to championship Sunday three times in three different ways. They lost the second game of the weekend in 2016, overcame a first-round loss in 2017 and advanced to the regional final undefeated in 2018 before losing twice on the final day.
Among the different postseasons, senior center fielder Ari Williams is the common denominator, Ford said. The Big West Player of the Year is determined to get back to the regional final, even with Friday’s result.
“I don’t care who we’re facing, I don’t care how many we’re down, it is do or die right now,” said Williams, who went 2 for 4 at the plate Friday with an RBI double in the third. “And there’s just no ifs, ands or buts about it, ’cause it’s postseason.”
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