Led by Caitlin Sill’s second straight shutout and a three-run outburst in the fourth inning, Tulsa claimed the 2016 American Athletic Conference Championship with a 4-0 win over No. 24 USF Saturday afternoon at the Collins Family Softball Complex.
The senior pitcher completed a championship performance that earned her tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. In two outings against ranked UCF and USF teams, Sill (19-10) allowed just seven hits, including four on Saturday.
The Golden Hurricane improved its record to 35-19 in winning its fifth conference tournament championship, and its first in two years as a member of The American. As winners of the league’s automatic bid, Tulsa will learn its NCAA Tournament destination at 9 p.m. CT Sunday on ESPNU.
Sill, along with senior Jocelyn Sheffield, sophomore Emily Watson and freshman Morgan Neal were selected to the All-Tournament Team.
USF fell to 44-14, while starter Erica Nunn (27-10) took the loss.
Left fielder Maddie Withee was 2-for-2 in the game, her second hit a triple to lead off the bottom of the fourth. With the wind blowing in from left field, the ball just escaped the extended glove of diving center fielder Juli Weber in right center. It was just Tulsa’s second hit of the game to that point, but the Hurricane capitalized on the opportunity.
Two batters later, shortstop Shelby Estocado bounced a one-out single over third base to plate Withee for the first run. After Neal was hit by a pitch, a double steal set up catcher Catherine Horner’s sacrifice fly to right. Sheffield then lined a base hit to right field, plating Neal, and extending the lead to 3-0.
“With the wind blowing in like this, it was going to be awfully tough to get the ball out today,” Tulsa Head Coach John Bargfeldt said. “That was just a huge advantage for us to get a runner all the way to third with nobody out. They were really choking us off in the infield, and we just needed to get something somewhere were nobody was playing. We were just able to find that space today.”
With Sill in the circle, TU did not need any more scoring, but an insurance run in the fifth inning provided additional cushion. Center fielder Jodi Edmiston led off the frame by legging out a double down the line in left, and later scored when Neal was issued a bases-loaded walk.
Sill tallied three strikeouts, and no walks on Saturday, and allowed only three baserunners to second base. In the tournament, Hurricane pitchers threw 21 shutout innings, and did not allow an opponent to reach third base. Sill has now thrown 25 consecutive shutout innings, and Tulsa has allowed just one run over the last 39 innings across six games.
“The pitchers really stepped up,” Bargfeldt said. “You just can’t explain how much that helps settle the team down. Then when you get a couple of runs on the board, that settles the pitcher down too. That’s what the pitchers pretty much did the entire tournament – just stayed aggressive and made quality pitches.”
WE WON THE SHIP!!! WE'RE GETTIN A RING!!!! OMG— Rylie Spell (@RylieSpell) May 14, 2016
BIG CONGRATS to @TulsaSoftball for WINNING the AAC CONFERENCE TOURNEY TODAY!!— Philip Montgomery (@CoachPMonty) May 14, 2016
We are Proud of you!! ????????