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Softball Wins ASUN Championship with Walk-Off Home Run to Advance to NCAA Tournament

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

For the first time in 12 years, the FGCU softball team brought home an ASUN title. The Eagles beat the University of North Florida Ospreys 7-6 from a walk-off home run for their second title in program history.

The Eagles entered the 2024 ASUN Softball Championship tournament with a 16-8 record after losing their final conference series against the Kennesaw State University Owls. This granted them the fourth seed, which allowed them one additional rest day against those having to play in the single elimination round. 

FGCU’s first game of the tournament was against the fifth-seed University of North Alabama Lions. The Lions advanced to the second round of the tournament after defeating the Austin State Peay Governors 3-0 to compete against the Eagles on May 8. 

This game went on to be a low-scoring affair, as graduate student center fielder Riley Oakes hit the only two FGCU runs. Oakes hit a double in the first inning to give her team an early 1-0 lead. Neither team claimed another run until the top of the seventh inning when the Lions tied the score 1-1. Oakes broke this tie with a single to center field, which brought sophomore right fielder Emily Chiarella in for the winning run.

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With the win, FGCU moved to the next round of the tournament, where they faced off against the first-seed Eastern Kentucky University Colonels on May 9. The Eagles would take the early lead in this contest after Oakes’ single to shortstop brought the first run in. This was followed by a single by sophomore third baseman Nikki Gibson, bringing Oakes in for a run. 

The Eagles’ two-score lead was shortlived, as the Colonels scored two unearned runs that stemmed by errors at the top of the fifth inning. This tied the game at 2-2 and extended the game into extra innings as neither team was able to score another run until the tenth inning. Sophomore designated player Olivia Black reached on a muffed throw by first base which allowed Meagan Ricks to score a tiebreaking run. This advanced FGCU to the semifinal round of the tournament against the University of North Florida Ospreys.

The contest between the Ospreys and the Eagles ended up being the highest-scoring game of the tournament, as both teams combined earned 16 runs. FGCU was the better of the two teams as they beat North Florida 11-5 on May 10. Their most productive scoring run came in the third inning, where the Eagle accumulated seven runs.

Freshman shortstop Sophie Wylie brought in the most RBIs during this game, allowing three batters to score, when she doubled to left center field.  This marked FGCU’s second upset of the tournament as they advanced to the ASUN Softball Championship.

FGCU’s championship competitor would be the Ospreys, as they beat the Colonels in the losers bracket to get another shot at the title on May 11. The Eagles’ advantage over the Ospreys was that they had two chances to defeat them. Every team after the first round had the luxury of double elimination, the Eagles had to lose twice to be eliminated from the tournament. North Florida already utilized one of their chances after losing in the semifinal round to the Eagles.

The first inning was a high-scoring affair as the Ospreys began the game with a home run to left field. This was followed up with two runs stemming from a fielder’s choice and a double to give North Florida a 3-0 lead.

This lead was short-lived as the Eagles scored five runs from four hits. The most notable of these hits came from sophomore shortstop Tiffany Meek, who doubled down the left-field line to bring in two runners. FGCU’s 5-3 advantage turned into a tied game as the Ospreys scored three runs while the Eagles scored one in the second inning.

Neither team scored any runs through the next five innings, which pushed the game to extra innings. Graduate student catcher Neely Peterson brought in the championship-winning run as she hit a walk-off homer to end the game, winning 7-6.

This marked the first time FGCU raised the ASUN Softball Championship trophy since making their first run back in 2012. With the championship victory, it granted them an automatic bid into the 2024 NCAA Softball Tournament.

“I think after last year leaving the tournament, we didn’t do the job that we quite hoped that we could have,” senior pitcher Claire Maulding said. “And just coming back this year, knowing that we could do it and having everyone on the same page. It just felt awesome.”

The Eagles will travel to Gainesville to take on the 2024 Atlantic Coast Conference Champions, the University of Florida Gators. The Gators enter the tournament having already beaten the Eagles 9-0 earlier this season on March 20. FGCU looks for redemption as their NCAA tournament journey begins on May 17.

“This team has a lot of heart,” Assistant Coach Cat Clifford said. “They’ve got a lot of fight in them. Even with two strikes and two outs, there is absolutely no way you can count them out. And it’s really just all of them. One through 26, it’s all of them.”

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About the Contributor
Jeffrey Hrunka
Jeffrey Hrunka, Eagle News Assistant Sports Editor
Jeffrey Hrunka is a junior double majoring in communications and journalism with a concentration in public relations. Jeffrey is from Fort Myers where his interest in sports journalism originated after falling in love with the world of motorsports. When he’s not working for Eagle News, he is usually spending time with friends, watching the New York Giants lose, or chilling in the pool.

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    iilanaMay 31, 2024 at 12:23 am

    nice article