Tuscaloosa, Ala. – Anna Miller tossed a five-inning, mercy rule perfect game to lead the USC Upstate softball team to an 8-0 victory over Jacksonville State in the first elimination game of the Tuscaloosa Regional Saturday afternoon at Rhoads Stadium.
Miller (Portland, Ore.) went the distance, retiring the side in order in each of the five innings she worked to earn the win and improve to 6-1 on the year. She became the second Spartan to throw a perfect game in the history of the program and the first since Upstate moved to Division I in 2007-08. The only other perfect game in the history of the program came when Kristy Middagh tossed a five-inning perfect game in the 8-0 win over North Greenville on Feb. 19, 2002.
"I had one amazing performance from our defense," said Miller. "I could not have done it without some unbelievable plays from every girl out there. I can't even explain. Maddie starts off the game with a diving catch. That could have been it right there."
Upstate improved to 42-11 on the year with the win, tying the 2011 squad for the most wins in the school's Division I era (since the 2008 season). The Spartans advanced in the Tuscaloosa Regional to take on Western Kentucky Saturday evening at 6:00 p.m. Central to see which team advances to play defending national champion Alabama Sunday in the regional final. Western Kentucky fell to Alabama, 7-6, earlier Saturday.
"Anna has really excelled at the end of the season," said Upstate head coach Chris Hawkins. "She is someone we really count on. She goes out in those big games like Georgia, Lipscomb and here today and pitches well. She fields her position well, has a lot of energy, and it is really good being able to rely on her right now."
Upstate set the tone defensively early in the game. Shortstop Maddison Kieffer (Middleburg, Fla.) made a diving catch to her right to retire the leadoff hitter and Miller got two fly outs to left for a 1-2-3 top of the first.
Upstate looked much better at the plate in the bottom of the first Saturday than it did throughout the game Friday against Western Kentucky. Meredith Barnes (Salem, Ore.) led off the frame with a double down the line in left. Although stranding Barnes at third, the Spartans got bats on the ball each time and Shellie Robinson (DeLand, Fla.) narrowly missed a towering home run that drifted foul high over the foul pole in left.
Miller looked strong early on against Jacksonville State, mirroring the form she had in the first game of Championship Saturday in the A-Sun Tournament on May 11 that moved the Spartans into the deciding game for the conference championship.
Following Barnes' leadoff double in the first, a pitcher's duel broke out between Miller and Jacksonville State's Tiffany Harbin. While Miller was dealing in the circle, Harbin settled down after the shaky first and retired the Spartans in order in the second and third.
That trend, however, stopped in the fourth inning when Harris led off the inning with a single up the middle, breaking Harbin's streak of retiring nine straight Spartan batters. Three costly errors would go on to haunt Jacksonville State and deliver a 5-0 lead for Upstate by the end of the inning.
Following Harris' single, pinch runner Lindsey Greeson (Stanley, N.C.) stole second and scored on Robinson's RBI double to the gap in right center to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
Cheyenne Griffin (Moore, S.C.) singled and advanced to second on the throw in from left field to put runners on second and third with no outs. The Spartans loaded the bases with one out when Kieffer reached on a fielder's choice and Robinson was safe at third on a mini-rundown. Harbin dug in and got the second out of the inning on a strikeout.
Harbin looked to get out of the inning having allowed just one run, but a grounder to shortstop was misplayed, allowing Kendall Settlemyre (Hickory, N.C.) to reach on the error and two runs to score on the play. Upstate was not done as the Jacksonville state shortstop committed another error to allow Hayley Reinfeld (Parkland, Fla.) to reach base and another Spartan run to cross the plate as Upstate opened a 4-0 lead. The rough inning chased Harbin out of the game.
Another Jacksonville State error, this time on the catcher throwing behind Settlemyre at third, allowed Settlemyre to score as Upstate opened a 5-0 lead.
Upstate ended the game and secured the perfect game for Miller with three runs in the fifth inning. Harris started things off again with a single. Griffin followed with a one-out triple to give the Spartans a 6-0 lead. Dana Landers (Simpsonville, S.C.) followed by laying down a would-be squeeze bunt that instead went for a single. Griffin scored on the play to give the Spartans a 7-0 advantage, while Landers moved to second on a throwing error. Settlmyre's RBI single to right ended things, bringing in Kieffer with the game-ending run.
Miller has come on of late in the circle just when the Spartans needed her. A junior college All-American last year at the College of Siskiyous in California, Miller had been used in spots after tossing a no-hitter against George Mason on Feb. 15 due to control problems. However, she came in and tossed 6 1/3 innings of relief to earn the win at Georgia on April 17 and tossed the big complete game in the win over Lipscomb on Championship Saturday at the A-Sun Tournament. Her performance against Jacksonville State only punctuated her tremendous second part of the season.
Griffin and Harris led Upstate at the plate with two hits apiece. Griffin scored twice to lead the Spartans as well.