Georgia outfielder Niaja Griffin hadn’t hit a home run all season, so when the first of her career came in the opening game of an NCAA regional, it felt even more special.
Georgia pitcher Erin Arevalo pitches in the 1st inning as UGA takes on Coastal Carolina during the NCAA Regionals at Jack Turner Stadium on Friday, May 18, 2012 in Athens, Ga.
Griffin’s third-inning home run keyed Georgia to a 13-3 mercy-rule win in five innings against Coastal Carolina on Friday in the first day of the Athens Regional at the Jack Turner Softball Complex.
“It felt great,” Griffin said. “I was just trying to do what I can. I wasn’t really trying to get a home run. I was just trying to move the runner for the team.”
Georgia (42-15) advances to the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination regional and will play North Carolina (42-13) at noon today at the Jack Turner Softball Complex. Coastal Carolina (43-19) will face Georgia Southern (42-19) in an elimination game starting at 2:30 p.m. The loser’s bracket final will follow at 5 p.m. North Carolina beat Georgia Southern 2-1 in eight innings in the first game on Friday.
Georgia led 5-3 going into the bottom of the third when Ashley Razey led off with her 10th home run of the season. After Christine Olney walked, Griffin — a freshman left fielder, who entered the regional batting .242. — lined a pitch from Coastal Carolina starter Kiana Quoles over the left-field fence to give Georgia an 8-3 lead and permanent control of the momentum. Griffin went 1-for-3 with two RBIs and scored twice in her first NCAA regional game.
“That pitch looked fat,” Griffin said. “I wasn’t worried. I was happy to help out the team.”
Georgia started the game shaky in the field. A misplayed leadoff grounder that turned into an infield hit and an error by Ashley Pauley gave Coastal Carolina runners on second and third with nobody out.
Coastal Carolina scored two on an RBI single by Kory Hayden and a groundout by Cacia Pierre to give the Chanticleers a 2-0 lead.
“That kind of stuff happens, so it was very important for us to come back and score some runs,” Pauley said. “We knew we had to go to work and get those runs back.”
Pauley sparked Georgia’s response in the bottom of the first. Her one-out single started a string of five consecutive hits for the Bulldogs. Kristyn Sandberg had a two-RBI single and Razey added an RBI single as Georgia took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the first.
“I think the team showed a lot of grit,” Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said. “We’ve got a saying, if you don’t get one side of the ball, play the other side. If you don’t get it on defense, turn it around on offense, and that’s what we did.”
Georgia senior right-hander Erin Arevalo (24-7) allowed three hits and three unearned runs with five strikeouts and one walk in four innings to pick up the win. Georgia committed two errors that led to all three of Coastal Carolina’s runs.
“I thought she did a good job not letting that (errors) get to her,” Harris-Champer said. “She stayed calm, which gave her a chance to throw her pitches. She stayed with it, dialed her pitch, put it in a zone and let her defense do something with it.”
Georgia pounded out 12 hits, including home runs by Razey and Griffin as well as two doubles by Gracie Goulder. Pauley finished the game 2-for-3 with three RBIs and scored once. Sandberg, Razey and Griffin each had two RBIs.
“Our pitching and defense just couldn’t handle this Georgia team,” Coastal Carolina coach Kelley Green said. “It was tough, we only had a couple of pitchers. That’s a great lineup one through nine. It’s never easy against a good team. Our pitchers tried their best, but they didn’t hit their spots as well, and even when we did, (Georgia) seemed to drive everything through.”
Quolas (24-9) allowed seven hits and five runs (all earned) in 1 1/3 innings to take the loss. Pierre went 1-for-3 with two RBIs to lead the Chanticleers’ offense. She had an RBI groundout in the first as Coastal Carolina took the early initiative. She added an RBI single in the third.
“Coach has definitely been stressing to stay calm and think about what you need to in your at-bat to be successful,” Pierre said. “We’ve been focusing a lot on thinking about the future and not what’s in the past. We’ve been focusing on each pitch as it comes up and focusing on each situation.”