Championship Round Day 3
UT ARLINGTON 4, IOWA STATE 3
FORT COLLINS, CO – Aileen Garcia met the moment in the bottom of the seventh inning on Sunday, and with the way she was swinging the bat during the 2019 NISC, the moment didn’t stand a chance of winning.
Garcia laced a single to drive in Krista Rude, which brought across the final run for UT Arlington as the Mavericks topped Iowa State, 4-3, at the Colorado 14er Field to win the championship. The Mavs (36-27) had reached the NISC tournament in all three years of the event, but broke through this year in going 3-0 over the course of three days.
Freshman reliever Allie Gardiner got the win with 2 2/3 innings of near-spotless relief, allowing just one hit and ringing up arguably the most important out of the event, a strikeout of lethal-hitting Sami Williams of ISU to end the top of the seventh inning.
Garcia, the tournament MVP, had an equally important RBI in the bottom of the first inning, getting Whitney Walton home after she’d tripled to start the frame and was still on third with two outs. Garcia says she makes sure not to worry about the number of outs when it’s time for a critical at-bat.
“With seniors (Rude and Laura Curry) on base, it only felt right that I had to do it for the seniors. It wasn’t for me at that point – that gave me extra motivation,” said the junior from Houston. “I think about how I can move the runner, and not hardly about the outs. What can I do to move the runner, get it to the right side, that’s what I’m looking to do.
“It’s a championship game, and it’s supposed to be a competition. It’s what you live for, and that gave me motivation, too.”
Gardiner faced Williams in the top of the fifth, walking her, and the Cyclones (37-25) were able to tie the game at 3-all during that frame. The freshman from Yorba Linda, CA., has been managing the closer role all season, and she relied on all her skills with the strikeout of Williams in the seventh.
“My coaches have had a lot of faith in me. (Williams) is a real talented hitter, and Coach (Peejay Brun) said don’t give her anything too close, and if you walk her, so be it. But go at her if you can,” Gardiner said. “That first pitch was a little too close, but after that I went a little wide. At two strikes, I tried to throw it hard and spin the curve ball, and I got it down. That was a good feeling.”
Iowa State took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, with Sydney Stites bringing in a run with a groundout and Sally Woolpert another with a single. Whitney Walton tripled to lead off the bottom of the frame for UTA, and she scored on a Garcia single to make it 2-1.
Bri Burchianti scored on an error in the fourth, and Curry’s bunt drove in another run as the Mavericks took a 3-2 lead. It became a 3-3 score in the top of the fifth on a bunt from Taylor Nearad; the inning ended on a diving catch by Rude in left field. The Mavs got another key diving catch in the outfield in the seventh by Curry for the first out of the frame.
“Last night we talked about how there will be a lot of excitement and adrenalin today, and we’d have to control it. They did a fantastic job pulling together as a team and with her energy,” Brun said. “Aileen gets up there and she’s so natural in that spot, how she doesn’t do too much. I told her they throw a rise ball, so just hit through it, and that’s exactly what she did.
“(Gardiner) has been trained to be the closer since the fall. That’s not normal … we knew we needed a whole staff, and Allie has embraced the position. She may throw four innings, sometimes for two, and she’s just so calm. She stayed composed the whole time.”