The central theme of the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Fla. proved to be “heartbreak” for the Aggies, as three out of the four losses could have just as easily gone in their favor.
The weekend as a whole followed the same pattern, resulting in the addition of two more tragic losses to the Aggies’ record. Despite the losses, sophomore Justine Vela assumed position as the team’s leader for the weekend, posting two complete game shutouts which served as the team’s two sole wins.
Although the weekend proved to be grueling, the Aggies exited the tournament with more experience under their belts, and an overall record of 7-9.
Friday — UC Davis 7, Southern Illinois 8; UC Davis 3, James Madison 4 (8 innings)
To kick off play at the NFCA Leadoff Classic, the Aggies’ (5-5) first matchup of the tournament pitted them against the Southern Illinois Salukis (4-6).
The Aggies took the early lead in the first and added another two runs in the third to increase their lead to 4-0. The offensive streak was highlighted by senior Kelly Schulze’s addition of another RBI to her resume after doubling to score sophomore Krista Bava from second.
Going into the final inning, the Aggies trailed by two with the heart of their lineup coming up to bat. After seniors Megan Guzman and JJ Wagoner put themselves into scoring position, freshman Christa Castello came up with a clutch double to score both and tie the game at seven apiece going into the bottom of the seventh.
With the bases loaded and two outs away from victory for the Aggies, the Salukis managed to steal the win away with an RBI single which sealed the final score at 8-7. The heartbreaker moved the Aggies’ overall record of 5-6, while the Salukis improved theirs to 5-6 as well.
Immediately following the culmination of the agonizing defeat in their first matchup, the Aggies then set their sights on the next challenging opponent ahead, James Madison (5-1).
The first inning proved to be strong all-around for the Aggies, as freshman Leah Munden posted a one-two-three top of the inning to set the stage for the Aggies’ first run in the bottom of the inning.
Neither team posted another run until the fourth inning when the Aggies added another two runs off junior Chandler Wagner’s double to increase their lead to 3-0.
Once again, the score remained stagnant until an inning later in the sixth when James Madison’s offense caught fire, exiting the inning after adding three runs to level the score at three all.
With two outs and two on in the bottom of the seventh, the Aggies were unable to capitalize in scoring position, sending the game into extra innings.
Stranding 11 runners on base throughout the course of the game, the Aggies were unable to capitalize with key opportunities, picking up their second heartbreaking loss of the tournament to make their record 5-7.
Saturday — UC Davis 0, Michigan 6; UC Davis 1, USF 0
Kicking off the second day of play for the tournament, the Aggies’ first game of the day pitted them against the 15th-ranked Michigan Wolverines (8-2).
The Wolverines came out guns-blazing, scoring three in the first with the help of an error and timely offense.
In the second, Thweatt was replaced by Vela after walking the leadoff batter. Despite loading the bases, Vela allowed only one unearned run after a ground-out RBI. In the third, Vela was replaced by freshman Marissa Chapa, who occupied the pitcher’s circle for the rest of the game.
After scoreless third, fourth and fifth innings which showcased stellar pitching from both teams, the Wolverines struck again in the sixth, increasing their lead to 6-0 after two hits and an error.
In the end, the Aggies added another loss to their record (5-8) with the 0-6 defeat, while the Wolverines’ record skyrocketed to 9-2.
Despite the loss, Chapa’s brilliance proved to be a force for the Aggies, as she gave up only one earned run and one walk through five innings.
After losing to their first nationally ranked opponent of the day, the Aggies transitioned from the loss to prepare themselves for their second top-20 team, the 14th-ranked USF Bulls (6-6). The Aggies placed Vela on the mound in the hopes of relying on her experience and command to bolster the squad for the challenging task ahead of them.
Vela proved to have total command over her pitches, opening the game by striking out all three leadoff batters swinging to give her team the upper hand early. Into the second, the Vela show continued to dominate the game, striking out another two to increase her total to five through two innings.
With the first two innings proving to be a pitcher’s duel — only one hit recorded between both teams in the first two innings — the third featured the first sign of wavering for Vela as she gave up two hits, resulting in a close play at home which very nearly produced a run for the Bulls.
The bottom of the third inning proved to be the offensive highlight of the game, as it featured the first and only run scored by either team. With Castello on second, a double off the bat of Wagner proved to be the only run necessary to seal the deal in a 1-0 upset against USF.
Vela’s performance proved to be the focal point in the Aggies’ match-up against the Bulls, as she struck out 12 in her first complete game shutout of the season. What was even more miraculous was the fact that the Aggies (6-8) were able to come away with the win having only posted two hits in comparison to the Bulls’ six.
Sunday — UC Davis 1, Illinois State 2 (8 innings); UC Davis 2, Fordham 0
On the final day of play, the Aggies’ first matchup scheduled them to take on a tough Illinois State team (6-8).
In the first inning, UC Davis drew first blood, posting their first and only run off of an RBI single by Bava.
However, in the bottom of the third, the Redbirds tied the game at one apiece after a leadoff double, followed by a triple.
After the third, both the Aggies and Redbirds were unable to fire up their offenses, holding the score at 1-1 through the seventh to push the game into extra innings.
An unsatisfactory close to a close-fought battle came in the bottom of the eighth when the Redbirds’ runner on second moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, only to score on the next at-bat on a wild pitch.
The Redbirds claimed the 2-1 victory, adding yet another heartbreaking loss to the Aggies’ list for the weekend. With the loss, the Aggies’ overall record moved to 6-9, while the Redbirds’ became 7-8.
To close out the weekend of play on a high note, the Aggies looked to their final matchup against the Fordham Rams (4-5) with hopes of redemption from the multiple intense losses on the tournament.
Vela lived up to expectations in the pitcher’s circle, improving on her first complete game shutout from the previous day by allowing only a single hit in her second complete game shutout against the Rams.
The Aggies managed to score once in the fifth and again in the sixth off of clutch RBI sacrifice flies to swing the score of 2-0 in their favor. Vela closed out the top of the seventh in fashion by striking out two to secure the win for the Aggies.
Vela’s brilliant performance not only moved her win-loss ratio to 4-1 on the season, but also picked up the Aggies’ second win of the tournament, moving their overall record to 7-9.
Though the weekend featured numerous “down-to-the-wire” losses against challenging opponents, highlighted by two top-20 teams, the weekend proved to be an invaluable learning experience for a young Aggie team. UC Davis’ two recorded wins served not only as morale boosters after multiple heartbreakers, but also highlighted the team’s untapped potential.
The upcoming weeks’ schedule continues to provide the Aggies with formidable opponents as the team takes on rival Sacramento State in a double header this Wednesday, while on Saturday the team will travel to Moraga, Calif. to challenge Saint Mary’s in a two-game series on the Gaels’ home turf.
ALLI KOPAS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.