2011 Summary: Redlands Softball Secures Lucky Seventh with Talented Team
The University of Redlands softball team continued on its impressive and respected track of success by producing a seventh straight conference title and NCAA Championship appearance during the 2011 campaign. With a 36-11 overall showing, the team rattled off the most wins in the program's illustrious history and posted a solid 19-5 record in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) competition. Significant team and individual awards complemented this exciting run, highlighting the Bulldogs' depth and determination.
Redlands opened the 2011 season in dramatic fashion by taking down NAIA opponent Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. In the Bulldogs' first ballgame, the team squeaked out a tight 6-5 victory in extra frames, and then followed that up with a 5-1 victory in the nightcap. Sophomore utility player Kirsten Milliner (Torrance, CA) provided the offensive spark for the lineup, going 4-for-7 at the dish while collecting three runs, one RBI, one walk and three steals.
The following week the Maroon and Gray kicked off conference action by ripping off back-to-back wins against the Poets of Whittier College. The Bulldogs brought out the lumber, smashing 22 runs in just 12 innings during the doubleheader, which was highlighted by five homers. In only her second time in a Bulldog uniform, junior designated hitter Rikki Scates (Redlands, CA) tore the cover off the ball with her 5-for-8 performance, including five RBI, three runs and one long ball in the two-game series.
After splitting its home opener against Cal State San Marcos, the U of R went on an absolute tear by winning 16 straight contests while outscoring its opponents by 3.25 runs per game. During the Bulldogs' hot streak, the club notched eight conference wins, tripping up Cal Lutheran University, Occidental College, Pomona-Pitzer Colleges and the University of La Verne. In addition, Redlands defeated NAIA schools Azusa Pacific University and Concordia University - Irvine, as well as non-conference foe Chapman University and Northwest Conference opponent Willamette University (WA).
During this stretch, Redlands rallied from behind in both games to knock off the La Verne Leopards by scores of 9-3 and 6-5. The Bulldogs broke open the first game with a seven-run explosion in the sixth inning, which included a grand slam from senior third baseman/designated player Aleisha Martinez (Escondido, CA), en route to a 9-3 victory. During the nightcap, Redlands tied it up with a three-run showing in the seventh to force an extra inning before junior catcher Kai Masutani (Honolulu, HI) ripped the game-winning single through the right side.
At the high point of this run, Redlands was named the No. 6 team in the nation by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA). With a 19-1 record at the time, Redlands had earned the second-most wins among NCAA Division III schools, behind No. 2 Emory University (GA), which had rattled off a 22-0 start to the season.
Unfortunately, the team hit a rough patch in its subsequent outings, beginning with consecutive losses to the top-ranked Wildcats of Linfield College (OR). The Bulldogs then dropped four more games to SCIAC competitor Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges in a strange twist of scheduling fate. Due to non-conference commitments, the teams opted to face off in back-to-back days, instead of enjoying home and away doubleheaders in separate portions of the season. This change went in favor of the Athenas, resulting in an uncharacteristic six-game slide for the Bulldogs.
Behind sophomore pitcher Kayla Uphold's (Fontana, CA) strong showing, the Bulldogs recovered from this momentary slump by recording two victories against Whittier. She notched the victory in game one after six strong innings from the circle en route to her team-leading 11th triumph of the season. The starting pitcher also helped her team out by going 3-for-3 at the dish with two runs and three RBI.
In the squad's final non-conference competition of the regular season, the crew split a series with the Lutes of Pacific Lutheran University (WA). Following a first-game loss, Redlands turned things around in the second contest, ripping off three first-inning runs that led to a 7-6 win. Four different Bulldogs tallied a multi-hit performance in the Maroon and Gray's winning effort.
Redlands produced another split series during the final weeks of conference competition, this time against the Sagehens of Pomona-Pitzer. Starring in the victory, first baseman Lizett Casillas (Pomona, CA) crushed a home run for her third long ball of the season. Beyond her homer, Casillas uncorked a triple to complement her 3-for-3 performance with three RBI. In addition, her stellar defense allowed her to reset the school's record for career putouts, surpassing All-American-turned-assistant-coach Nicky Neumann's previous standard of 885. After game two, Casillas owned the record with 896 putouts with six regular-season games still remaining.
The Bulldogs capped off the conference schedule with three consecutive doubleheader sweeps against Cal Lutheran, Occidental and La Verne, staying in contention for the coveted SCIAC crown.
In celebration of the seniors, the U of R dominated the Regals with a combined score of 22-5 with two five-inning thrashings. Martinez made her final home bout even more memorable with a grand slam in the bottom of the first inning during the opener, which initiated the team's relentless offense. For her efforts during the Bulldogs' impressive wins, Martinez was tabbed as the SCIAC Female Athlete of the Week after hitting .571 during the U of R's six games. Overall, she went 8-for-14 with a team-leading eight RBI to go along with two runs scored.
The Bulldog pitching staff shined against Occidental with the tandem of Uphold and freshman pitcher Gabrielle Sciuto (Poway, CA) throwing back-to-back, complete-game shutouts. Sciuto put together one of her best outings of the year, throwing a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts en route to a 4-0 win in the second game.
On the final weekend of the regular season, the Maroon and Gray nabbed a share of the program's seventh straight conference title with two victories on the road against La Verne. The Bulldogs rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh to capture the 5-2 victory in game one, and then staved off a late push by the Leopards to wrap up an 11-8 win in the nightcap.
With CMS finishing out the season with a doubleheader sweep of Whittier, the Athenas and Bulldogs landed in a tie for the 2011 championship. As a result of the head-to-head results between the squads, Redlands settled for the No. 2 seed in the SCIAC Postseason Tournament.
Redlands edged out the third-seeded La Verne Leopards for the fifth straight time in 2011, earning a 5-4 decision in the first round of the double-elimination event. In addition to recording the complete-game win from the circle, Uphold unleashed a two-RBI, two-hit display from the dish. After being sidelined with an injury for most of the conference season, sophomore center fielder Sarah Beeman (Corona, CA) returned to action and snagged a deep fly ball for the third out of the fifth inning. With a runner on third, La Verne would have tied the ball game without her stellar defensive play.
Redlands punched its ticket to the NCAA Championships by avenging four earlier season losses to 13th-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps with back-to-back wins over the Athenas. In an epic, nine-inning game, the Maroon and Gray prevailed in the semifinal by a tight score of 3-2. With the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, freshman standout Amanda Lievanos (Anaheim, CA) connected on her second hit and second RBI of the game, bringing home Masutani for the winning run.
Despite giving up two first-inning runs in the tournament final against the Athenas, the Bulldogs settled into an offensive-minded rhythm that allowed them to push across seven scores in the top of the second stanza. While making the most of two CMS errors, Redlands also recorded three hits with freshman left fielder Janelle Carrasco (Whittier, CA) and Beeman supplying two RBI on the way to the postseason tournament title.
After it was all said and done, Redlands earned seven All-SCIAC accolades during their championship run. Highlighting the Bulldogs' awards, Lievanos garnered SCIAC Player of the Year recognition after leading the league in five offensive categories, including average (.507), hits (38), runs (36), total bases (76) and home runs (8). Her slugging percentage of 1.013 also blew past her counterparts while her on-base percentage of .567 ranked second in the SCIAC.
In addition, Uphold, Casillas and Martinez landed on the First Team, while junior second baseman Molly Duran (Corona, CA), Carrasco and freshman short stop Amanda Clark (Riverside, CA) gained Second-Team honors.
As a team, Redlands led the SCIAC in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.384), hits (262), runs (195), doubles (45),triples (12) and home runs (22), while its pitching and defense held their own by recording top honors in fewest hits allowed (149), strikeouts (111), fielding percentage (.976) and fewest steals allowed (14).
Following a two-week layoff from competition, the Bulldogs took to the road for their seventh consecutive NCAA appearance, arriving at the University of Texas-Tyler as the No. 4 seed in the six-team regional. Redlands faced the hosts in its opening game and suffered a heartbreaking 9-10 loss in 15 innings to the 14th-ranked Patriots. After trailing early and rallying back to take the lead in the seventh, the Bulldogs couldn't pull off the upset in a ballgame that kept fans riveted for nearly four-and-a-half hours. Despite the loss, Casillas provided the team with one of the most memorial moments of the season as she launched an 0-2 pitch over the right-field fence for a grand slam in the top half of the eighth inning.
Behind Uphold's tenacity and stamina, the Bulldogs recovered from the Texas-Tyler loss with victories over Mississippi College and CMS to keep their postseason dreams alive. She provided yet another well-rounded effort with two runs and an RBI on a .500 average while giving up just three runs and fanning eight batters in 11.2 innings of work.
This success propelled Redlands into a rematch opportunity against Texas-Tyler in a possible semifinal round, depending on the outcome. However, the hosts proved to be too much for the Bulldogs, as the Maroon and Gray's season came to an end with a 2-10 decision.
Once the season concluded, numerous student-athletes collected plenty of hardware for their inspiring contributions. Six members of the squad earned All-Region recognition from the NFCA, with Lievanos headlining the group as the sole recipient of a First-Team honor. In addition, Uphold landed on the Second Team, while Beeman, Casillas, Clark, and Martinez received Third-Team nods.
Lievanos continued to obtain impressive rookie plaudits by notching two All-America selections. She landed among the top NAIA, NCAA Division II and III competitors as a member of the 12-player Easton® Fastpitch All-America team. In addition, she represented the Bulldogs on the NFCA Division III All-America First Team. The right fielder led the team in nine offensive categories, highlighted by a slugging percentage of .824 to go along with 54 RBI. In addition to the aforementioned categories, she now sits atop the single-season records at Redlands for batting average (.473), hits (70), home runs (10), and runs scored (58).
Furthermore, Casillas and Martinez garnered CoSIDA Academic All-District honors for their academic and athletic contributions during their final campaign. Casillas was selected as a First-Team associate, while Martinez collected Second-Team recognition.
Although the graduation of Casillas, Martinez and senior Stacey Burke (Glendora, CA) yields significant challenges for the squad, Redlands boasts one of the most promising groups of returnees to continue the decorated softball tradition. Behind Head Coach Laurie Nevarez's leadership, Redlands sits poised to continue right where it left off, making it eight in a row at the conference and national levels in 2012.