May 14, 2007
The sound of 19 hearts breaking in the same instant was so loud, the silence was deafening.
Once the NCAA Regional selection show was over and the Florida Atlantic University softball team was left out of the field of 64, the loudest silence came from directly in front of the television, where the team's seniors sat in anticipation just a few seconds earlier.
After fighting back to take the Sun Belt's regular season title in the final weekend, and winning five-straight games in the conference tournament to win the postseason crown, the Owls thought they had done enough to prove their worth to the selection committee.
A resume that included a win over no. 3 Texas A&M and Texas Tech, one-run losses to no. 3 Alabama and Auburn, an 18-3 record in the team's final 21 games and the highest RPI (according to FullySports.com on May 7) of any team not selected to the tournament apparently wasn't enough.
Not to mention the fact that the team had to sweep a tripleheader on Saturday due to rain the night before to earn the Sun Belt's postseason title in their first year as a member of the conference that finished 10th among the 30 D-I conferences.
So instead of gearing up for its eighth regional appearance since 1999, the program says goodbye to two of its greatest individuals in the team's history, as part of a senior class that never learned the meaning of the word quit.
Jen Musillo's family will need to buy her a trophy case for all the hardware she brought home from the conference tournament in Murfreesboro, TN. The senior from Tequesta was named the Sun Belt's Pitcher of the Year, along with First-Team All-Conference, All-Tournament and the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
After throwing a 15-inning complete game in round one against Florida International, a game that tied the longest in school history, Musillo came back the next day and fired a three-hit shutout over South Alabama to keep the Owls alive. With FAU's future once again on the line, she threw the first five innings of another three-hit shutout over Florida International to advance yet again.
With Friday's game's postponed due to rain, Musillo would be asked to go even further. She threw a three-hit shutout against Middle Tennessee in a 1-0 ballgame to force a play-in game with the Blue Raiders for the right to face Troy in the championship.
After throwing the first three innings of a 4-3 win over MTSU, she came back to deliver her finest effort of the tournament, another three-hit shutout over Troy in a 1-0 win, earning the Owls the Sun Belt title.
She threw 44 innings in all, striking out 38 and allowing just 37 hits - 20 of which came in the 15-inning loss to Florida International. She posted three shutouts and combined for one more with freshman Amber Barton.
Musillo finishes her FAU career with a 38-20 record, 26-11 during her senior season. She posted a 1.85 ERA in 393 innings, striking out 402 and holding opponents to a .207 batting average. She set a career-high with 15 strikeouts in FAU's 4-0 win over no. 3 Texas A&M, and was a part of 17 shutouts during her career.
Mandie Fishback came to FAU from Tennessee and made herself a critical piece of two championship puzzles. This season, Fishback led the team in batting average (.366), home runs (seven), RBI (40), on-base percentage (.423) and slugging percentage (.584) on her way to being named the Sun Belt's Player of the Year and honored as a First-Team All-Conference member.
The Banks, OR native batted .409 during the conference tournament with a team-high six RBI to earn All-Tournament honors. Her three RBI in the first inning of the six games played a major roll in the fact that FAU scored first in every tournament game.
Fishback finishes her Owl career with a .330 career average, eight home runs and 62 RBI. She committed just six errors in the field, as one of the nation's top defensive second basemen.
This year's only four-year senior, Jenna Lopez, will also leave a huge hole. The shortstop-turned-center fielder became one of the league's best defensive players, often saving her most spectacular catches for the most critical situations. Last year, she robbed a pair of Stetson batters of extra-base hits with diving catches in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. This season, in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, she made a catch that has to be among the best plays of the season, running full speed into the wall in left center while making a backhanded grab. Risking pain for the betterment of the team was nothing new for Lopez. She set a single-season and career record for most times hit by a pitch this season after getting hit 13 times.
Lopez finishes her FAU career among the career leaders in games played, runs scored and stolen bases in addition to her school-record 24 plunkings. She helped FAU earn two Atlantic Sun Championships as well as this season's Sun Belt crown.
Voyles had a triumphant end to her career, getting the call behind the plate down the stretch and hitting her second-career home run in the conference tournament. Perhaps her greatest moment was a double in the third inning of the SBC Championship game, driving a double to the wall in left center to score Melissa Moore from first for the game's only run.
Doonan is among FAU's career leaders in nearly every pitching category and went 26-17 during her three-year career. She had five shutouts and shared three others during her time in the circle, allowing opponents to bat .237.
Ebanks was a great teammate during her three seasons at FAU, picking up her first hit as an Owl against East Tennessee State. She batted .333 during her Owl career as an outfielder.
The 2007 season had many highlights, including the 4-0 victory over no. 3 Texas A&M on March 17. In addition to Musillo's 15 strikeouts, Becky Brandies had a three-run triple to help lift the Owls to the upset over the highest-ranked opponent FAU has ever defeated.
Against another Texas-based school, Florida Atlantic rallied in the bottom of the seventh to score eight runs and take an 8-7 win over Texas Tech on Feb. 14. Six of the runs came after two were out, including a bases-loaded double by Fishback that tied the game at seven. She would later score the winning run on a single by Lauren Crandall.
During a nine-game trip through the state of Alabama, the Owls dropped a tough 1-0 ballgame to no. 3 Alabama, with the Crimson Tide scoring the game's only run in the bottom of the sixth.
The highlights culminated in the season's final few weeks, with a sweep over Florida International and climbing into first place in the SBC standings for the first time on the regular-season's final weekend and taking home the regular-season title. The Owls would hit a road bump in the first round of the SBC Tournament as the no. 1 seed, facing no. 8 FIU in a 15-inning marathon, but would win five-straight on the strength of four shutouts to win the Sun Belt's postseason crown in the program's first year.
The regular season championship was the program's eighth and the postseason title was its 10th in the past 11 years. Head Coach Joan Joyce was named Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, the sixth time she's taken home a yearly coaching honor.
Musillo, Fishback and Becky Brandies earned All-Tournament honors for their efforts during FAU's tournament run.
With the season coming to a close, the Owls can take a minor victory in the fact that they will be only one of two teams to win their final postseason game. The other will win the national championship. Something those 19 hearts would have loved to play for.
2007 Team Leaders
Average: Mandie Fishback .366, Becky Brandies .276
Home Runs: Mandie Fishback 7, Blair Bodenmiller 6
RBI: Mandie Fishback 40, Blair Bodenmiller 33
Doubles:Mandie Fishback 15, Becky Brandies 13
Triples:Mandie Fishback 4, Becky Brandies and Blair Bodenmiller 3
Runs:Mandie Fishback 45, Jenna Lopez 31
ERA (min 75 innings):Jen Musillo 1.36, Amber Barton 3.20
Shutouts: Jen Musillo 9, Kathryn Stauffer and Amber Barton 1
Strikeouts: Jen Musillo 275, Amber Barton 64
Wins: Jen Musillo 26-11, Amber Barton 6-7