TAMPA, Fla. – You could talk about Thursday night’s American Athletic Conference quarterfinals between eight-seeded UConn softball and top-seeded USF in terms of a record-breaking game – specifically the brilliance of junior pitcher Jill Stockley – but it wouldn’t paint the entire picture.
It is almost criminal that Stockley (10-14) took a loss against the Bulls, as the Huskies (20-35) were downed by USF, 2-1, in 12 innings – the longest tournament game since the American’s inception in 2013.
On Thursday night at USF Softball Stadium, Stockley threw the game of her life, lasting a tournament-record 11.2 innings in the circle and throwing a career-high 177 pitches – collecting six strikeouts and walking just one batter, and that walk didn’t come until the final inning.
Records were indeed broken, but it was the composure of a young and determined UConn group that fought to the bitter end against the AAC regular-season champions in their home venue that will remain in memory.
“I think we prepared for this all year,” said head coach Jen McIntyre. “We played in some pretty hostile environments. USF runs a great tournament and their fans were great. We were in a position we wanted to be in, but they just came through.”
In the end, it was a chopping groundball from senior Lauren Evans to second base that skipped just out of the reach of second baseman Ryne Nakama, completing the marathon and giving USF a walk-off win to advance to the AAC semifinals on Friday.
UConn made the movie “Bull Durham” proud, as it hit the ball, threw the ball and caught the ball with great precision – putting the pressure on USF right from the start. However, had it not been for the heroic effort of Stockley, everything else might not have mattered as much.
It was Stockley’s steely nerve in pressure situations that helped her strand nine runners on base throughout the game, while holding USF’s explosive offense to just 2-for-12 (.167) with runners in scoring position.
— American Digital (@American_DN) May 11, 2018
Stockley embarked on the longest start of her career, toppling her 11-inning effort in a win over Boston College as a freshman in the 2016 season. It was easily her longest outing this season, as well as the longest game UConn has played in since a 12-inning, regular-season loss to Providence in 2013.
Asked if she had ever thrown 177 pitches in a game before Thursday, Stockley replied with a smile, “Hopefully not.” It was the sixth time in her last seven starts that she allowed two or fewer earned runs in a game.
“I feel like if it wasn’t a tight game, I definitely would have felt more tired,” said Stockley. “The adrenaline took over and I didn’t feel anything…It was a hostile environment and I just tried to block it all out.”
It wasn’t her record-breaking numbers at the end of the game that were impressive, as much as how Stockley methodically went inning-by-inning and holding down the league’s most potent offense. She hurled 10 scoreless innings against the Bulls.
“I really just told myself every single pitch to not get ahead of myself and focus on one pitch each time,” said Stockley. “I wasn’t thinking about counts, just one thing at a time and hitting my spot and moving the ball through the zone.”
As each inning went by, Stockley kept jogging out to the circle – regardless of her pitch count and the relief arms waiting to assist at McIntyre’s call; the main reason being that Stockley had everything handled.
“I kept talking to Jill every half inning and kept telling her, ‘one more, one more’,” said McIntyre. “I thought she looked strong and was in control, so we clearly had people ready if we needed them, but she was in control of this game.”
Stockley wasn’t the only player to show nerve in an elimination game against USF, as a two-out RBI single by senior Emma Stanley in a pinch-hit opportunity in the seventh inning off star pitcher Georgina Corrick tied the game, 1-1, extending it for five more frames.
“I couldn’t say enough about the three seniors and the legacy they are leaving,” said McIntyre. “To have Emma come up with the huge pinch-hit at the end of the game was unbelievable.”
The Bulls took a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning when Macy Cook delivered a two-out RBI single of her own, a run that seemed might be the difference in a pitchers’ duel between Stockley and Corrick. However, the young Huskies stay composed.
In the seventh, sophomore Kiwi McDaniel drew a one-out walk, which was followed by a single from redshirt freshman Olivia Sappington – part of a 3-for-5 performance by the outfielder. Corrick, who was taken out in between the sixth and seventh frames, re-entered and retired sophomore Chloe Kerns for the second out.
Stanley pinch-hit for sophomore Devon Casazza and lined a shot to center field off Corrick. McIntyre waved home freshman Hollis Wivell, a pinch runner for McDaniel, from second base and she scored on a nice slide and dropped ball by Cook at the plate.
Emma Stanley delivers the pinch hit, two out RBI single for @UConnSoftball and we are tied at 1-1! USF coming to the plate in the bottom of the seventh!
Watch Live 🎥📱💻: https://t.co/kpQefg1rPW pic.twitter.com/GNlH9JpxVd
— American Digital (@American_DN) May 11, 2018
The Huskies had chances to take the lead in the seventh, 11th and 12th innings with runners in scoring position, but the duo of Corrick and left-hander Hannah Parker kept them off the scoreboard.
At the same time, Stockley was dealing herself – leaving runners in scoring position in three of the five extra frames. In the bottom half of the seventh, freshman Briana Marcelino caught a pop-up at shortstop and doubled-up the runner at second with a great awareness play to end the threat.
In the 12th, Stockley walked her first batter of the game (after facing 43 prior) with one out. Two batters later, Evans hit a chopper to second that skipped over the head of Nakama and into the outfield, scoring the game-winning run from second base.
“USF is a solid team and it’s a credit to how tough our conference is this year,” said McIntyre. “For the eight-seed to take them 12 innings is pretty unbelievable. It was an incredible game…I’m really, really proud of (my team).”
Marcelino and McDaniel added hits for the Huskies, who nearly won their first AAC Tournament game in stunning fashion. Corrick, the AAC Rookie of the Year, went 8.2 innings and allowed no earned runs on two hits with three strikeouts.
The pitching duel between Stockley and Corrick resulted in 21 scoreless half-innings, 16 runners left on base and a combined 5-for-32 (.156) between both offenses with runners on base. Each team accounted for a plus-60 strike percentage, as just three walks were issued all night.
Running catch by Kelli Bates @UConnSoftball ends the USF threat and we are still scoreless going to the fourth inning in our final quarterfinal matchup!
Watch Live 🎥📱💻: https://t.co/kpQefg1rPW pic.twitter.com/L7yBjnlKU1
— American Digital (@American_DN) May 10, 2018
Stockley’s performance, Stanley’s hit, Wivell’s run, Marcelino’s double play and junior Kelli Bates’ acrobatic catches in the outfield – as well as some hard-hit balls to the outfield that were snagged by USF defenders – were all examples of UConn’s tenacity and persistent effort on Thursday.
“I think it shows that we are underrated,” said Stockley. “We were last in the conference and maybe teams take us for granted. You can’t do that with us though – if we show up and put everything out there, we can beat anyone if we come together and play our best.”
McIntyre added, “We put everything we had on the field today…I always say the last game of any team’s year is kind of the epitome of the season. For us to put it all together from the start of the conference season to this point, it’s evident how bright the future is.”
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