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17 May 2008

JSU Gets Another Shot at Alabama

By Al Muskewitz
Star Sports Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

TUSCALOOSA For two years, Kayla Collins helped show the Florida State softball team the way to the NCAA Regionals.

Friday night, playing for Jacksonville State, she helped show the Seminoles the way out.

Collins hit a sharp two-run single up the middle in the fourth inning to break up a tie game and touch off a seven-run inning that propelled the Gamecocks to a 10-1 five-inning victory against her former team in the last elimination game at the Alabama Softball Complex.

"It was very cool ... to be able to step up like that," Collins said. "If I could have done cartwheels I would have, but I didn't want to hurt myself."

With the win, the Gamecocks (40-15) live to get another shot at host and No. 3 national seed Alabama (53-6), today at 7:30 p.m., on ESPN2. A second game, if necessary, will immediately follow and be shown on the network.

JSU coach Jana McGinnis called the Tide a team "two notches, two levels, above us" after it knocked the Gamecocks into the losers' bracket with 10-1, five-inning win earlier in the day, which ended JSU's 10-game winning streak.

"It's like I told (her players) at the end of the (FSU) game," McGinnis said, "there's been very few goals that we've set in front of the team that they didn't bust their rear ends to achieve and have achieved the majority of the goals they have set.

"I was proud of them after the Alabama whipping we took, that by the time we were done cleaning out the dugout they were already saying we were making it to the championship game. How big is that for Jacksonville State University? I think it's huge. Make it to the championship game and anything happens."

Collins came to JSU this year looking for more playing time, and has been a fixture in the Gamecocks' lineup since her arrival.

This wasn't the first time in recent weeks she was the catalyst for a big JSU inning. It was her two-run homer that jump-started a nine-run inning that helped the Gamecocks' run-rule Tennessee Tech in their first game of last week's OVC Tournament.

"We hung a pitch and she took advantage of it," FSU coach Joanne Graf said. "We know she hits those pitches well. We should've known to keep it low and away or low and in and we would've been OK, but she took advantage of a mistake."

The Gamecocks weren't through scoring after Collins' hit, which came on what McGinnis described as "the prettiest swing she's had all year." They proceeded to load the bases, then Nikki Prier hit a two-out flare to left that, with the help of an error at the plate, cleared the bases. Then Prier scored on a wild pitch and Allie Barker later singled home a run.

In all, they sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning. The eruption came off three FSU pitchers including ace Tiffany McDonald, the half-sister of a JSU hitting legend and included four hits, three errors and three wild pitches. Six of seven runs were unearned, but they all counted.

"That one inning killed us," Graf said. "We were really in the game and ... we let them have that huge inning and that pretty much did it."

Alana Hicks ended the game and secured JSU's fifth 40-win season in the past six years with a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth. It was the senior's 22nd career homer, tying her with Melinda McDonald, the sister of the FSU pitcher who served it up.

The Seminoles (38-28) used their speed and small-ball approach to take the early lead.

Ashley Stager led off the second with a walk and was sacrificed to second. She stole third and score when the throw got away.

The Gamecocks tied it in the third on Chrissy O'Neal's long home run to center.

JSU freshman pitcher Ashley Eliasson picked up the victory. She got out of bases-loaded jams on either side of the Gamecocks' big inning.

FSU loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, but Eliasson got Whitney Buckmon, the 'Noles' most dangerous hitter, to pop to short. She got out of the fifth with the last of her six strikeouts.

"I've been in situations like that previously in the season and I've learned that you've just got to keep your cool and play like there's nothing wrong," Eliasson said. "I just needed to calm down and needed to hit my spots better, then I would be good."

Today: JSU vs. Alabama
7:30 p.m., ESPN2, 91.9 FM

Tuscaloosa regional

Friday's results

Game 3 Alabama 10, Jacksonville State 1

Game 4 Florida State 5, Chattanooga 3

Game 5 Jacksonville State 10, Florida State 1

Today's games

Game 6 Alabama vs. Jacksonville State, 7:30 p.m.

Game 7 Alabama vs. Jacksonville State, if necessary, 9:30 p.m.

About Al Muskewitz

Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State University sports teams for The Anniston Star.

See story at The Anniston Star's website: .

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