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Softball: Mais yeah, cher! Cajuns beat No. 1 Florida in first round of WCWS

Joshua Parrott • jparrott@theadvertiser.com • May 30, 2008

Daily Advertiser Photo Gallery Florida vs. UL:  http://www.theadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=DG&Dato=20080529&Kategori=SPORTS&Lopenr=805290803&Ref=PH&Profile=1006

OKLAHOMA CITY – As her pitch sailed toward home plate, Florida’s Stacey Nelson was confident she would hit her spot.

Unfortunately for the All-American pitcher, UL’s Holly Tankersley hit the pitch into the center-field bleachers for her only hit of the game on Thursday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

Tankersley’s solo home run in the top of the eighth was the deciding factor as the unseeded Ragin’ Cajuns opened the Women’s College World Series by shocking top-seeded Florida, 3-2 in eight innings.

"It just happened," said Tankersley, named a first team NFCA All-American on Wednesday. "There are no words for that. It was the pitch that I grounded out to second in the past two at-bats. I just took my chances.

"I closed my eyes and swung."

Ashley Brignac pitched with similar confidence in a game that aired live on ESPN. The freshman struck out a career-high 15 batters and retired 12 of the last 14 hitters she faced to spoil Florida’s first WCWS appearance.

"We knew exactly the velocity they had and what kind of pitches she had," Florida coach Tim Walton said of Brignac, now 31-6 this year. "She didn’t throw anything at us today that we didn’t know she had.

"I think she threw one off-speed pitch the whole day."

The Cajuns (52-13) move on to play No. 5 seed Texas A&M at 6 tonight in the winners’ bracket on ESPN2 after earning their first WCWS victory in 12 years.

Florida (67-4) had won 40 of its previous 41 games but now faces unseeded Virginia Tech in an elimination game at 6 Saturday night.

"Nobody else probably expected us to win this game," Brignac said after throwing 187 pitches. "We knew we had the best chance to win it. If we stay together and fight and believe, we’re going to get the job done."

That was in doubt early as Florida got to Brignac in the second and fourth. In the second, Corrie Brooks ripped a double down the third-base line. UL’s Katie Smith overran the ball in the left-field corner as Tiffany DeFelice scored after hitting a lead-off single for a 1-0 lead.

After Brignac escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third, Florida’s Aja Paculba made it 2-0 with an RBI double to left.

Vanessa Soto sparked the Cajun rally in the fifth.

Nicknamed "Money" by her teammates, the senior lived up to her moniker with a two-out double to deep center. Karli Hubbard and Vallie Gaspard scored to tie it, 2-2, after the ball sailed over the head of Florida’s Kim Waleszonia and hit the center-field wall.

Nelson survived Melissa Verde’s lead-off double in the sixth. But she was not as lucky in the eighth against Tankersley, who homered for the 22nd time this year and for the third straight game for the go-ahead run.

It was only the second homer of the year allowed by Nelson, who fell to 45-4 after giving up three runs – all earned. The junior had given up 33 earned runs in her previous 54 outings.

"I think I hit my spot – but she hit it so I was unable to see the catcher catch it," Nelson said. "She might have been expecting the pitch. She just did a great job on it and hit it very hard."

Florida struggled against Brignac at the wrong times. The Gators struck out 10 times with runners on base, stranding nine in the frustrating loss.

"She had a phenomenal outing," UL co-coach Stefni Lotief said of Brignac. "She is so focused and determined to find every pitch. She gave up a couple of runs early, which made her even more determined. She had better confidence in her teammates to be able to make those pitches and to be able to challenge batters at the plate.

"She is a freshman, but she pitched much larger than that."

Lotief was in awe of Tankersley’s late-inning homer.

"Holly is what we would call the real deal," she said. "She is very strong, has unbelievable eye-hand coordination, and she understands the game.

"She is a competitor who has the size, ability and obviously the strength."

Nelson learned that the hard way on Thursday.