FAU softball wins Conference USA championship game over UAB

FAU players run out of the dugout after the game winning run crosses the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning on April 3 during the Owls game versus Louisiana Tech. (FAU University Press)
FAU players run out of the dugout after the game winning run crosses the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning on April 3 during the Owls game versus Louisiana Tech. (FAU University Press)

Ever since Conference USA’s softball coaches named Florida Atlantic the top team in the conference’s preseason poll, the Owls have been thought of as the best team in the league.

Entering the Conference USA tournament as the No. 1 seed and on an 18-game winning streak, the vision of FAU hoisting a championship trophy at the end of the season started to become more probable.

The team confirmed all those beliefs on Saturday afternoon, defeating the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers in the conference championship game by a score of 6-0.

Prior to this year’s softball campaign, no FAU athletic program ever hoisted a Conference USA championship trophy. Last year’s softball team came the closest, but fell to Western Kentucky 3-1 in the championship game.

Junior pitcher Kylee Hanson pitched in last year’s title game and allowed three runs and six hits in six innings of work. This time around, Hanson, one of 10 finalists for NCAA’s USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, threw her 15th shutout of the season — tops in the country — while striking out eight batters and allowing just three hits.

The Owls, who won 22-of-24 conference games in the regular season, beat Louisiana Tech 7-4 on Thursday and mercy-ruled UAB 11-3 in five innings in Friday’s semifinal game (the tournament was in double-elimination format, which allowed the two teams to play in both the semifinal and the championship game).

Junior right fielder Delaney Rickey recorded five hits in seven at-bats during those first two games of the tournament. She knocked in three runs, scored twice and hit a triple in each game.

In Saturday’s championship game, Rickey scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning on a double off the bat of senior third baseman Carnesha Thompson. Thompson scored the second run of the inning when she scored on a throwing error.

Senior second baseman Melissa Martinez singled in the third run in the third inning. Her twin sister, senior center fielder Christina Martinez, scored and knocked in two more runs in the fourth inning to help the Owls take a commanding 6-0 lead.

The Owls are a projected two-seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, but they will have to wait for the selection show on Sunday night to see who and where they will play. The show will air on ESPNU at 10 p.m.

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email brendanrfeeney@gmail.com or tweet him @feeney42.

FAU starter, Kylee Hanson named finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year

iFormer Jupiter pitcher Kylee Hanson has followed her stellar high school career by being just as dominant at the college level.

The Florida Atlantic ace and 2013 Palm Beach Post Large Schools Player of the Year is one of 10 finalists for USA Softball’s Player of the Year Award on Wednesday. She has already been named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Year and a member of the all-conference first team.

Hanson has dominated opposing hitters this season. She is 26-3 with 273 strikeouts in 195 2/3 innings. She has posted a 0.64 ERA this year, which is second in the nation. She has 25 complete games and leads the country with 14 shutouts.

The final three candidates for Player of the Year will be announced on May 25, and the winner will be announced on May 31 before the start of the Women’s College World Series.