Cal U softball rallies to remain alive in NCAA D-II tournament
OKLAHOMA CITY — Cal (Pa.) coach Rick Bertagnolli admitted he was drawing from oft-uttered coaching cliches for a description of his team's two-game performance Saturday in the NCAA Division II softball tournament.
“The heart that they have, they don't ever give up,” he said. “You hear those cliches all the time, but you're actually seeing it lived out right here.”
Cal rallied from a three-run deficit with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning for an eventual 7-6, eight-inning win over Central Missouri in its first elimination game of the day at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The Vulcans managed just two hits in the next game against Indianapolis but pulled out a 2-1 victory to keep their season alive for at least one more day.
Including their conference and regional tournaments, the Vulcans are 10-0 when facing elimination.
At least one elimination game, and possibly two, await Sunday. Cal faces Dixie State at 3:30 p.m., needing to win twice to advance to Monday's championship game. Dixie State defeated Cal, 1-0, in Thursday's opening round of the tournament.
At this point, the Vulcans' mentality is “show up and win,” no matter the opponent.
“Who do we play? I haven't even looked yet,” Bertagnolli said when asked for his thoughts on Sunday's matchup before being told it was Dixie State. “It's wonderful to have another opportunity at them. We'll approach them the same way we did, but we need to make some adjustments so we can hopefully do something offensively against them.”
Alex Sagl (29-5) earned both pitching victories Saturday despite a rough start. She was in the circle for the first game and was pulled after Central Missouri took a 6-0 lead. But she re-entered for a scoreless eighth inning to earn the win.
She scattered eight hits and allowed one run against Indianapolis. When asked whether she would be ready to go for potentially two games Sunday, Sagl didn't hesitate.
“Yes,” she said. “I've gotten used to it, and I love being out there, so, yeah, I can do it.”
Her coach followed with an even more emphatic answer.
“Until the arm falls off, you'll see Sagl out there,” Bertagnolli said.
Cal's Lindsay Reicoff (Chartiers Valley) was the offensive star. Her two-out, two-run single in the third inning proved to be all the offense the Vulcans needed against Indianapolis. And she had a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh against Central Missouri to spark the rally.
“Nothing changes,” Reicoff said of her hitting approach in crucial situations. “It's always just business. It's just knowing we need those runs to get everything started.”
Cal trailed Central Missouri, 6-0, entering the bottom of the fifth but scored three times to cut the deficit in half.
Reicoff's single in the seventh opened the door for consecutive RBI singles by Natalya Smarra (Sto-Rox), Jacquelyn Fowler and Hailey Wilson to tie the game and force extra innings.
Cal's Erica Vallecorsa doubled to lead off the bottom of the eighth and moved to third on Courtney Sinclair's sacrifice bunt. After a lineout for the second out of the inning, freshman Emily Price delivered the winning single to right field that scored Vallecorsa.
After so many close calls, from the PSAC tournament to the NCAA Regionals to here at the championship tournament, the Vulcans don't appear as though they will be bothered by having their season on the line Sunday.
“The pressures that come with that, especially in this setting, aren't there,” Bertagnolli said, “because we're used to that situation.”
Scott Wright is a freelance writer.