LOS ANGELES -- A pitchers' duel is a lot like a chess match, and the canon law of chess is that victory goes to the player who makes the second to last mistake.
On Friday night in the Los Angles Regional, Long Beach State made an error in the bottom of the fourth -- the last misstep of the game before San Diego State committed the dagger in the sixth. Long Beach State finished with the win, 1-0.
"We knew that it would come down to probably a mistake," said Long Beach State coach Pete Manarino of the standoff, in which both teams went hitless through five innings. "We just did a great job of manufacturing a run."
Manufacture they did -- moving systematically, 60 feet at a time, ultimately plating the winning run in the sixth. It was junior Kourtnee Gervasi who got things going with a one-out fly ball to shallow left. A diving Tamani Wells almost kept the no-hitter alive by brilliantly laying out and catching the floater, but lost hold of it when her diving body hit the outfield grass.
Center fielder Breezy Goad laid down a perfect sacrifice, moving Gervasi over to second and bringing up Tiffanie Wedell. The second baseman slapped a chopper to short, where Chrissie Markham rushed her throw in an effort to get the speedster. Wedell would have had the bag by a step even if Markham's throw was on point earning her the infield single, but Markham skipped it away into foul territory which brought Gervasi around to score. That run proved all the 49ers would need to make it out of Game 1 unscathed, as their hurler Michelle Turner (26-9) struck out four and gave up just two hits over seven innings.
One interesting, if not offbeat occurrence in this game took place during Turner's third at bat. Turner, the hurler who boasts the fourth highest batting average on team, took a hack and connected on a pitch from Christina Ross and actually broke her bat in half. It's the first time I had ever seen it -- not an MLB, every-other-game slab of lumber splintering -- this was a Louisville Slugger TPS Catalyst composite that snapped in half on contact!
Maybe it was the muscle the pitch had behind it; after all, Christina Ross is the 2006 Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year. The sophomore struck out nine batters, allowed only three hits and walked none, but fell to 16-9 in the loss on an unearned run.
I'm not sure which was the tougher break for Ross.
Ross and the Aztecs must win two on Saturday to stay alive. Long Beach State takes the high road, facing Friday's other winner in Los Angeles -- the hometown UCLA Bruins.
UCLA 11, Missouri State 2
The nation's No. 1 ranked Bruins leapt out to victory in the nightcap of the Los Angeles Regional, scoring seven runs before Missouri State had the chance to bat through their lineup.
"UCLA certainly showed why they are the No. 1 team in the country," said Missouri State coach Holly Hesse, who has led the Bears to five trips to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins started off their World Series pursuit with a slugfest, belting four home runs in the 11-2 victory over the Missouri Valley Conference champions.
UCLA struck early and often with a lead-off two-strike single in the first from Pac-10 Player of the Year Andrea Duran, followed by a hard hit single up the middle from Krista Colburn. With two outs, junior short stop Jodie Legaspi took a big swing just missing the first delivery from MSU's senior hurler Shannon Buslepp, but Legaspi turned on the very next pitch driving a three-run homer over the left-field scoreboard, punctuating the three-run first inning.
In the second inning, UCLA tallied four more hits off Buslepp, including singles from Whitney Holum and Tara Henry, and an RBI single from Duran. Colburn added a sac fly to make it 5-0 and bring up senior second baseman Caitlin Benyi. In her first at bat, Benyi laid down a sac bunt to move two runners into scoring position, but in her second at-bat, she belted her ninth home run of the season well over the left-field wall, giving UCLA a seven-run lead after only two innings of play.
Missouri State called sophomore Melissa Porche into the circle after Benyi's bash. Porche, who hails from Buena Park, Calif. (about 35 miles from Easton Stadium) leads the nation with seven saves on the year. Porche settled in and allowed no hits or runs in the third and fourth inning. In the fifth, Legaspi continued her assault, hitting her second homer of the game -- this time to the opposite field.
In the sixth and final inning of play, it was back-to-back doubles from Henry and Duran, followed by a two-run blast from Colburn that triggered the mercy rule and 11-2 victory for UCLA.
While the Bruins put on a clinic in the batter's box, it should not go without saying that Missouri State got their hacks in off ace Anjelica Selden.
UCLA coach Sue Enquist noted, "We jumped on them early, and a lot of teams usually break at that point, but they didn't at all. ... They weren't going to just roll over, and I compliment them for that. ... When Jelly slipped up a couple times, they capitalized, and that's the sign of a good team."
Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year senior Samantha Fleeman went 2-for-3 against Selden. Jelly fanned her in their first meeting, but Fleeman came through in her second at-bat with a hard hit single up the middle past Selden and Benyi to score the Bears' first run of the game. Fleeman led off the sixth inning in her third plate appearance, where she took Selden's first pitch over the right-field wall for her 10th dinger of the season.
Said Fleeman of drawing No. 1 UCLA, "We were excited. At first, it was a little bit intimidating but who else better to play, especially your senior year, than UCLA?"
Junior left fielder Katie Martin went 2-for-2 with a double and a run scored off of Selden.
Selden struck out 11 and walked one in her six innings of work, improving to 29-5. She and UCLA face Long Beach State in the first game on Saturday at Easton Stadium.
All games from the Los Angeles Regional will be televised live by ESPNU. The Bruins and 49ers kick off the afternoon at 5:30 p.m. ET. The Bears and Aztecs face off at 8 p.m. ET.
Mary Buckheit is a former college softball player and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.