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Georgia wins record-setter to stay in WCWS

5/31/2009

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Populated by parents, friends and other insiders of the teams on the field, there are two sections of seats at Hall of Fame Stadium in which fans stand up during games with some regularity. But when the other 8,000 people on hand rise, it's something other than the norm.

And the crowd Sunday was most definitely on its feet and on pins and needles -- or just shaking out the pins and needles in their legs after sitting for more than four hours -- when Georgia's Brianna Hesson drew a bases-loaded walk after fouling off three two-strike pitches to beat Washington 9-8.

It was the highest-scoring game in Women's College World Series history. It was the longest first seven innings in the event's history. It featured a record-setting performance from Washington freshman Niki Williams, who drove in seven runs. It was alternately mind-numbingly slow and breathtakingly dramatic. And it was only the opening act.

"I didn't think the game was going to go this way, but that's why we play the game," Washington coach Heather Tarr said. "You never know what's going to happen. And we've got to be more prepared to control our game. I don't think we did a very good job of that today."

With the dramatic win, in which it both rallied from a three-run deficit and watched a four-run lead evaporate on one swing of the bat, Georgia earns another shot at the Huskies later this evening. One loss from elimination after Thursday's opening round of games, the Bulldogs are now one win from the championship series.

As has been their style since the start of super regionals, the Bulldogs ceded the early momentum after Williams hit a three-run home run off Bulldogs starter Sarah McCloud to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead. That led to the first of four pitching changes and perhaps the most surprising, bringing Taylor Schlopy in from center field to pitch for just the fourth time this season and the first since Feb. 22 against not-quite-WCWS-bound UNC-Greensboro.

Schlopy held up her end of the bargain, getting through Washington's order once unscathed (she would earn another stint later between further duty in center), but it wasn't until coach Lu Harris-Champer turned to freshman Erin Arevalo that the Bulldogs silenced the Huskies. Pitching for the first time since the first week of April, Arevalo threw four shutout innings, allowing four hits and no walks.

"I thought she did an outstanding job," Harris-Champer said. "The best job she's done all season, and I'm extremely proud of her."

Harris-Champer wouldn't say who would get the ball to start the second game. Ace Christie Hamilton lasted just one inning in the first game, throwing 32 pitches and allowing three hits, two walks and four earned runs. At this point, unless there is something physically wrong with Hamilton, the likely bet would be she gets the ball with the suddenly deepened bullpen ready to go at the first sign of trouble.

For Washington, even after 164 pitches on the afternoon, it's Danielle Lawrie's game to win or lose tonight. On the plus side, she pitched 22 innings in two games against Massachusetts on the final day of regionals. On the negative side, she has a season's worth of use like that on her arm, and that regionals performance took place on a cool, New England night -- not under the hot Oklahoma sun.

What started as a massive advantage for the Huskies when Sunday dawned has shrunk to the slightest of edges. Their ace is tired, and the Bulldogs have seen her four times this season and come away with wins twice. For the newly crowned USA Softball Player of the Year to avoid prolonging a streak in which no player has ever won a national championship in the same year she won the award, Lawrie will need to pull out something special.

Georgia is closing fast, even if they have to slow games down and pull pitchers out of nowhere to do it.

"Everybody knows that me and Christie [Hamilton] don't want to stop playing," Kristin Schnake said after the win a night earlier. "We want to prolong this as long as we possibly can. And we want to be in that championship series."