May 15, 2004
BOCA RATON, FL - For the eighth straight year, Florida Atlantic University is the Atlantic Sun Conference champion. The Owls defeated UCF, 1-0, in Saturday afternoon's championship game of the A-Sun Tournament at FAU Field in Boca Raton. FAU receives the A-Sun's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will await Sunday's selection show to see which one of the eight Regionals it will play in. Candice Freel threw a three-hitter against the Golden Knights on her way to being named tournament MVP.
In a game that featured plenty of scoring opportunities by both teams but never the big hit, the final run came across via a walk to Jenn Piazza with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. Piazza did the same in the bottom of the ninth of an elimination game Friday against Troy State.
Freel had yet another dominating performance. She scattered three hits with three strikeouts and three walks. The shutout was her 16th of the season and her third of the tournament. Freel (27-8) pitched 38 and two-thirds innings in five appearances and allowed just three runs, two earned. She fanned 32 and walked just five. She had a tournament ERA of 0.36 and lowered her overall ERA to 0.60. The win also gives Freel a new career-best of 27 for the season.
"Candice did an awesome job the whole weekend," said FAU head coach Joan Joyce. "We put ourselves in a bit of a hole with the loss to Stetson on Thursday, but I felt the wins we had on Friday gave us a lot of confidence heading into Saturday. We just couldn't get the timely hit today, but with the way Candice pitched all weekend, I knew we'd still have a good shot at getting a win."
Saturday's title game featured a total of three 1-2-3 innings as both teams were successful getting runners on base. The Owls left the bases loaded in the first while the Golden Knights did the same in the third. With one out, Freel forced a pop-up and struck out A-Sun Player-of-the-Year Stephanie Best to end the threat.
In the sixth, Piazza led off with a single but was stranded at first. Nikki Green led of the top of the seventh with a walk, but Freel again shut down UCF to set up the fateful final inning.
With one out, Jessica Sachs singled to right. Callie Piper followed with a single to center. Pam Mazzarella singled to load the bases. After a strikeout for the second out, Piazza worked the count to 3-1 before Lindsey Enders, in relief, threw a pitch up high to force in Sachs with the winning run.
FAU outhit UCF 7-3 and left eight runners on base compared to UCF's seven. Piper went 3-for-3, and Sachs finished 2-for-4.
FAU went 4-1 in the tournament and finished with three straight wins in elimination games. Its all-time A-Sun Championship record stands at 37-7 with a 16-1 mark at FAU Field.
In addition to Freel, Piper and Amamda Morin received All-Tournament honors. Piper had five hits in the tournament while Morin had a shutout in FAU's win over Gardner-Webb on Thursday.
The NCAA Tournament selection show will air live Sunday at 8:30pm on ESPNEWS. A total of 64 teams make the field and play at eight regional sites. FAU is one of 27 automatic qualifiers while the remaining 37 are at-large selections.
Florida Atlantic has qualified for the NCAA Tournament the past six years.