For the Tigers only one word is needed to describe their 2011 season: CHAMPIONS. For the first time in program history, the Pacific softball team took home the Big West title as the Tigers put together a record campaign to reach the heights of the conference mountain. From the opening day of practice to the final day of the season, the Tigers proved to be one of the best teams in the country as Pacific put together a 37-19 overall record, en route to their 12th appearance in the NCAA tournament. Originally picked to finish fifth by the Big West coaches, the Tigers, led by both youth (seven starting underclassmen) and experience (seven returning starters) proved early that they were going to be a force to be reckoned with throughout the 2011 season while never letting up on the way to the conference title.
Throughout the season the Tigers faced off against some of the nation's best as they took on 11 top-25 ranked teams including six top-10 opponents. Highlighting the Tigers' schedule were contests against four College World Series participants as Pacific competed against Cal, Oklahoma, Florida and the national champion Sun Devils of Arizona State. Most impressively, the Tigers not only competed against the best teams in the country but also defeated some of the best teams in the country as they handed No. 8 Cal its most lopsided loss, 13-2 (5 inn.), of the season while scoring the most runs against the Golden Bears since 2007. In addition to the win against Cal, the Tigers also took down No. 13 Oregon and No. 23 Fresno State.
With five non-conference tournaments on the schedule in 2011, the Tigers tested themselves early and often in preparation for play in the Big West. Pacific saw action at the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson Ariz., the Lipton Invitational in Gainesville, Fla., the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. and the Stanford Invitational in Stanford, Calif. Additionally, Pacific reintroduced its own Libby Matson Invitational, bringing back to life one of its oldest traditions in honor and memoriam of one of its staunchest supports.
It was at the Libby Matson the young Tigers really introduced themselves into the national consciousness as they knocked off the No. 13 ranked Oregon Ducks to open the tournament. The win was their first over a top ranked opponent in 2011 after narrowly missing knocking off No. 8 Arizona in Tucson the week prior. At Florida the next week, the Tigers got a taste of softball's elite as they faced the No. 2 and eventual national runner-up Gators for the fourth straight season.
Continuing the trend two weeks later, the Tigers would head south to the familiar confines at Cal State Fullerton to take part in the Judi Garman Classic, a tournament that pitted Pacific against some of its staunchest opposition in tournament play. The Tigers opened the classic against No. 9 Oklahoma and the national champion Sun Devils on day one, dropping both games including a 4-3 loss to Arizona State before rebounding to take their final three contests. Not only did the Tigers rebound for three wins, they did so in record fashion as they posted a pair of mercy-rule victories in the final day of play including a 15-4 (5 inn.) win over New Mexico which tied Pacific's program record for runs scored in a single game.
Pacific would close out its non-conference tournament slate at the Stanford Invitational where a rain filled weekend wreaked havoc on the tournament schedule. In addition to their tournament play, the Tigers played 12 non-conference, non-tournament games while making history along the way. For the first time in Pacific softball history, the Tigers played a night game at Bill Simoni Field on April 12 as Pacific defeated Santa Clara, 11-1 (6 inn.), under the newly installed lights around the Tigers' home field.
Made stronger by their play against the best in non-conference action, the Tigers stormed into Big West play in April and never looked back. Taking all seven conference series they played, the Tigers started their championship campaign at home against Long Beach State on April 2-3, defeating the 49ers, and eventual conference runner-up, in two of three contests to begin their record season. Protecting their house in conference play, the Tigers finished with an impressive 8-1 record at Bill Simoni Field against Big West opponents with sweeps of UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara to go along with their series win over Long Beach State. Against the Highlanders, on April 22, the Tigers recorded the program's 1,000th victory, against all opponents both Division I and II, as Pacific beat UC Riverside, 7-3, in the second game of their opening double-header.
In addition to helping the Tigers to a 17-4 home record, third best in program history, the sweeps of the Highlanders and Gauchos helped Pacific finish the regular season winning 10 of their final 12 games. Closing out the year, the Tigers took series wins from both Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly as they won the double-header before dropping the final game of the three-game series. Against the Mustangs, Pacific's double-header win was the two wins needed for the Tigers to secure their conference title, taking the championship outright and with it the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
While the NCAA tournament did not go as planned as the Tigers dropped games to No. 11 Stanford and No. 16 Nebraska at the Stanford Regional, Pacific's chance to experience the post-season should pay dividends in their title defense in 2012.
Along the way, the Tigers put up some historic numbers as Pacific finished No. 13 in the country in hitting with a .323 team average. Pacific at the plate proved to be the best ever as the Tigers shattered both the program's (.299) and the Big West's (.311) previous records for hitting. The Tigers would also set program records for hits (488), slugging percentage (.433) and on-base percentage (.406) while finishing just one run (295) and two RBI (265) shy of all-time team marks.
Individually, Pacific dominated the post-season Big West awards as the Tigers took a record seven spots on the All-Big West First team while also garnering three major awards. Among the major awards the Tigers took the coach of the year (Head Coach Brian Kolze), Player of the Year (Nikki Armagost) and Freshman Player of the Year (Kelsey Rodriguez). Additionally, Armagost, Rodriguez and Megan Hom all earned all-region honors, the first Tigers to earn the award since the 2007 season. Rodriguez became just the third freshman in program history to garner such recognition.
The 2011 Tigers made a name for themselves throughout the Pacific record book as well as all three all-region players recorded top-10 single-season batting averages with Rodriguez's team-leading .381 average coming in at No. 7 all-time while both Armagost and Hom finished at .367, No. 10 in the record books. The duo also posted top-10 seasons in hits with Hom's Big West leading 69 hits ranking as the fourth highest total in program history. In addition to stellar averages, the Tigers put together some historic run production led by Nicole Matson who finished the year with 50 RBI as she became just the second Tiger and just the sixth player in Big West history to reach such a mark. Along with 42 runs scored on the year, Matson became just the third Tiger in program history to post 40 RBI and 40 runs in a single season. With Armagost not far behind at 45 RBI, the duo became just the third pair of teammates in program history to each record 40 RBI together in a single season. Additionally, the Tigers' power was put on display as both Matson and Amy Moore etched their names into the record books as Matson's 11 home runs for the year placed her tied No. 3 all-time while Moore's career-best seven tied No. 10. Even more impressively than her season total, Moore became the first Tiger in program history to hit two home runs in a single inning as she blasted a solo home run and a two-run shot in the fourth inning of Pacific's 11-0 win over Cal State Bakersfield on Mar. 12.
On top of season records, the Tigers put together a few career milestones as the freshman class of 2008, Matson andLindsey Pierce, added to their legacies. For Matson, along with her 40-40 aspirations for the year, the slugger became just the third Tiger in program history to reach 100 RBI and 100 runs scored for a career. For Pierce, the senior became the 10th Tiger in program history to record 100 runs scored for a career while also becoming just the eighth Tiger to record 200 base hits throughout their time at Pacific. She recorded her 200th hit on senior day at Bill Simoni Field in the Tigers 9-2 win over UC Santa Barbara on May 7.
In all, the 2011 season will be remembered as one of the best seasons in the 34 year history of the Pacific program. It will be remembered for its records and its wins, for its championship, but most of all for the players and coaches that put their heart and soul into the team to climb to the top of the mountain and plant their flag at the summit.