Athens, GA - The Georgia Bulldogs rallied to erase a seven-run deficit and force extra innings with Team NPF, but the All-Stars came away with the victory, 9-8, in eight innings on Thursday night at the UGA Softball Stadium in front of an over-capacity, standing-room only crowd of 1,622.
The National Pro Fastpitch squad improved to 15-0 on its 2010 "Back-To-School" College Tour with the win, but for the first time on the tour needed an extra frame to come away victorious. Additionally, the eight runs scored by the Bulldogs are the most that Team NPF has allowed on the tour, which was making its 13th stop with tonight's game in Athens.
"This is just so special," Georgia's Alisa Goler said. "I think all the teams that have played in this so far would agree that it's special to get a chance to play on the same field as all of them. Half of them have played on Team USA and teams like that, so it's just an honor to get to play against those players. This experience is second to none. The World Series is obviously awesome, but this experience was just totally different."
Trailing 8-1 through four and a half innings, Georgia climbed back into the game with three late-inning home runs. In the bottom of the fifth, Goler, a two-time All-American, provided the first of her two home runs, on a three-run shot to right. Then in a four-run seventh, Taylor Schlopy, also a two-time All-American, hit a two-run, opposite field blast to right, and Goler added another home run, this time a two-run round tripper to straight away center that tied the game 8-8 and forced the extra frame.
In the eighth, Team NPF's Amanda Williams, a five-year veteran of the professional softball league, provided the game's decisive run on a solo home run to left that gave the game the final margin of 9-8. It was the eighth home run of the contest.
From the circle, four-time All-Big Ten honoree Jamee Juarez earned the win for the All-Stars after entering to pitch at the start of the sixth inning and going the rest of the way. Juarez's relief appearance came behind starter and Olympic Gold Medalist Cat Osterman's three innings of one-run ball and two-time NCAA Player of the Year Danielle Lawrie's two-inning, three-run outing. For Georgia, Morgan Montemayor took the tough-luck loss. Montemayor also entered the game in the sixth, when the Bulldogs trailed 8-4, and she retired eight of the first nine batters she faced before allowing Williams' home run. Montemayor was the fourth pitcher for Georgia in the game as Sarah McCloud, Alison Owen and Erin Arevalo also appeared in the circle.
In a game where the home run was prevalent, Team NPF utilized the long ball early on in building its 8-1 advantage.
In the first, the two teams traded runs with four-time All-American Kelly Kretschman hitting a two-out, solo home run to right in the top half of the frame. In the bottom of the inning, Ashley Razey provided the game-tying hit on a single to right that scored Megan Wiggins, who reached on a single and moved to second on a fielding error.
Team NPF extended the lead to 5-1 in the second with four-year NPF veteran Megan Willis hitting a three-run home run to left center and 2006 Pacific-10 Player of the Year Andrea Duran added a solo home run, also to left center.
The NPF lead would be stretched to 8-1 with single runs in the fourth and the fifth innings. In the fourth, Duran picked up another RBI on a double to right, and in the fifth, Jessica Williams provided a pinch-hit, RBI double on a shallow fly ball to center that went off of a diving Schlopy's glove.
Georgia then began its comeback with a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth. Schlopy doubled on a line drive off of the center field wall and Wiggins drew a walk to bring Goler to the plate. Goler then provided a towering, three-run home run to right cutting Team NPF's advantage to 8-4.
In the seventh, Ashley Pauly was hit by a pitch with one-out to set up Schlopy's home run that cut the NPF lead to 8-6. Wiggins then battled to a full-count before drawing a walk to set up Goler's game-tying home run to center.
"It was really exciting," Goler said of Georgia's rally to tie the game and her two home runs. "We kind of had a flashback to the comebacks that we've had over last couple of years. I'm pretty sure that those were the two most exciting home runs that don't even count in my career, but it was still great and was very exciting for all of us."
Thursday's attendance of 1,622 was the third-largest crowd in the history of the UGA Softball Stadium as fans flocked to the facility to watch the back-to-back Women's College World Series final four appearing Bulldogs and the professional all-star team.
"The fans were great," Goler added. "It was probably as packed as when we have a Southeastern Conference game against a big rival, but I think that it was even better because you could tell how unified they were. That's what it's all about. That's what you play for and they really helped us get pumped up."
Wiggins added that Thursday's game was special and significant for the Bulldogs while also being exciting and fun at the same time.
"Our goal today was banding together and fighting, putting our base hits together, and I think that this is a good turning point going back into individuals and into the spring," Wiggins said. "It really shows a lot about our team to come out right away in the first inning and score and answer to their one run and then fight back after getting down and never giving up. Fighting to a zero-zero score. It's like one of your dreams come true to see all the players you watched growing up playing and you finally get to play against them, especially in a game like that. It was a good feeling."