May 9, 2009
RALEIGH, N.C. – The second-seeded Florida State (43-13) softball team eliminated third-seeded North Carolina (45-11) 4-1 to advance to the ACC Championship game at Dail Stadium on the campus of NC State. The No. 16-ranked Seminoles improve their winning streak to 14 straight and make the first appearance in the ACC title game since the 2006 season on top of giving head coach Lonni Alameda her milestone 200th career victory.
“I was an exciting game in front of a great crowd which gave it a good championship feel,” Alameda said. “We wanted to be in tomorrow’s game and we had to get past a really good North Carolina team to do that. Sarah [Hamilton] ran out of gas a little towards the end but she came back and gutted it out. It’s an amazing feeling when you can accomplish that. It was just an exciting game.”
ACC Pitcher of the Year Sarah Hamilton was solid in the circle for the Noles, striking out 13 Tar Heels and giving up just three hits and the one run. She continues to lead the league with a 0.87 ERA and is now ranked tied for sixth in the FSU Single Season record books with 277 punch outs this year. Coming into the weekend, the Tallahassee native ranked in the NCAA at third for strikeouts per seven innings, sixth for overall ERA and 21st for strikeouts.
A total of 12 batters struck out for both teams in the first three innings before Kaleigh Rafter stepped to the plate and broke up the pitcher’s duel. Shayla Jackson led off for the Noles and combined a nicely placed hit with her speed to pick up a single with Rafter on deck. The senior catcher evened the count at 2-2 before taking a mighty swing at the sixth pitch, launching the ball into the track complex behind left field. Rafter now leads her squad with 11 home runs and 43 RBI this season.
North Carolina would find a handful of opportunities to put some points on the board in the top of the sixth as pinch-hitter Constance Orr broke up the no-hitter with a single to Kristie McConn. Orr beat the throw by a millisecond and was just the fourth Tar Heel to reach base all day. Breanna Brown followed up with a single of her own up the middle to put two UNC runners on base with no outs and the two-time ACC Player of the Year, Danielle Spaulding, on deck.
Hamilton would throw one ball to the UNC first baseman before junior Terese Gober was called in from the bullpen. Despite her best effort, Gober was unable to pick up any strike outs and walked Spaulding and Brittany McKinney, allowing a run to plate for the Tar Heels before Hamilton re-entered and got the Noles out of the pickle with two punch outs and a foul-out to McConn.
With a 2-1 lead, Florida State was not finished putting the points on the board in the bottom of the sixth. Leading off was left fielder Monica Montez who struck out looking, followed by a nice hit up the middle from senior Michelle Snyder.
Designated player Courtney Rosen drew a walk from Lisa Norris and moved Snyder up to second. Another strikeout by pinch-hitter Allison Collins would bring up first baseman Brittany Joseph with two outs. The sophomore popped up to the shortstop in the third and was hit by a pitch in the fifth and this time reached first thanks to a fielding error by UNC’s third baseman Alyssa Francona. The error cost the Tar Heels a run as pinch-runner Amber Bryant would plate, stretching the lead to 3-1 for FSU.
With runners on the corners, Norris intentionally walked junior Carly Wynn to load the bases in hopes of getting an easy third out with Jackson stepping to the plate. The freshman right fielder knocked the ball right to short stop Christine Knauer but she would not make the play, resulting in another Seminole run and pushing the score to 4-1.
North Carolina wasn’t giving up without a fight in the seventh and pinch-hitter Stephanie Murad doubled up the middle and Brown drew a walk with two outs. It was a perfectly placed pitch by Hamilton that caught Spaulding looking to end the game and advance the Noles to the title game tomorrow.
Florida State will fight for its first ACC Championship since the 2004 season against the winner of the top-seeded Georgia Tech (41-13) and fifth-seeded Virginia Tech (28-27) match-up in progress. The Yellow Jackets took 2-of-3 from FSU while the defending ACC Champion Hokies, who eliminated the Noles from the tournament last year, dropped 2-of-3 to the Garnet and Gold this year.
Game time for Sunday is set for 1 o’clock with coverage on GameTracker and a live television broadcast on SunSports.