There’s been many adjectives used this year to describe Ole Miss softball’s incredible season, and Cinderella run is the phrase that often comes to mind. In a heartbreaking end, Cinderella lost her slipper, but she won’t be forgotten, as the Rebels fell 1-0 to the 11-time national champion UCLA Bruins Friday night in NCAA Super Regional play.
Just last year, Ole Miss (43-20) made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, ultimately falling to the eventual national champion Oklahoma Sooners in regional action. This season, the Rebels fought back from a rough start in SEC play to claim the SEC Tournament Championship, earning their way to a national seed and host site for NCAA Regionals.
After winning that last weekend, Ole Miss was faced with a daunting task in Los Angeles against the perennial powerhouse, and came up just short falling by a combined two runs in the two losses.
With the season-ending loss Friday night, the Rebels say goodbye to a special senior class in Miranda Strother, Courtney Syrett, Dakota Matiko, and Raven Campos. For all four, it was a bumpy ride to start, but one they can hang their hat on as the Rebels went from 3-21 in SEC play in 2014, to claiming the tournament title in 2017.
In Friday’s 1-0 defeat, head coach Mike Smith handed the ball off to sophomore Brittany Finney in the circle, her first start in three weeks. It marked the first time this postseason rising star Kaitlin Lee wouldn’t get the ball, but Finney made the most of her opportunity.
After a shaky start in the first that included a double and RBI single, Finney settled in and worked three 1-2-3 frames from there, and finished the contest with only four hits allowed and the one run. Unfortunately, the Rebel offense wasn’t quite as sharp, as they left seven on base, five of which were stranded in scoring position.
The Bruins got on the board early in the first after Brianna Tautalafua doubled off the wall in left, and Madeline Jelenicki singled up the middle to score the run. That would be the only run of the night, though, as both pitchers were locked in a duel from there.
In the Rebels’ first chance at the plate, Elantra Cox led it off with a four-pitch walk, before eventually stealing second. A groundout to first moved her to third, but a strikeout ended the threat and kept the score 1-0.
After Finney settled in for a clean second, Alyssa Gonzalez, playing in front of her hometown crowd, led off with a line drive single to short. With one down, Courtney Syrett rolled a slow grounder to third, when the third baseman threw to second but it rolled into center field. From there, Paige McKinney lined out to left, before Ashton Lampton popped up a 2-0 pitch on the infield to end the inning.
Finney came back in the third to work another impressive clean frame, as she struck out all three batters she faced. Kylan Becker then came back in the home half for a base hit up the middle, but a force play at second and groundout again thwarted any threat keeping it a 1-0 game.
The Rebels came back in the fourth with another leadoff single off the bat of Gonzalez, before Kaylee Horton drew a walk and that ended the night for UCLA’s starter Selina Ta’amilo. The Bruins turned to the Thursday night starter, Rachel Garcia. Syrett put down a sacrifice bunt moving both runenrs into scoring position, but another lineout and strikeout stranded the pair.
Becker again reached in the fifth off a 1-out walk, but Strother struck out and Becker was caught stealing to quickly end that frame.
In the sixth, Finney reached off an error at third, but three-straight putouts ensured the 1-0 lead would hold for UCLA headed to the seventh. But, the Rebels couldn’t get any offense going, capping off the 1-0 decision.
Gonzalez finished the game 2-for-3, and had only one at-bat in the entire Super Regional where she didn’t get a hit. Becker added the other hit for Ole Miss, as she, Cox and Horton all drew a walk each.