Junior Lacey Middlebrooks hit a three-run home run and pitched a one-hit shutout to lead Tulsa to the Conference USA championship with a 3-0 win at UAB Sunday at UAB Softball Field.
The Golden Hurricane (38-12, 19-5 C-USA) claimed its second straight regular season C-USA title and fourth in seven years under Head Coach John Bargfeldt. TU will be the No. 1 seed in the Conference USA Championship May 10-12 in Birmingham.
Middlebrooks (18-5) took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and recorded four strikeouts and allowed just two walks in the game. She broke the game open in the top of the sixth when she launched her fifth home run of the season over the fence in left field to give the Hurricane a 3-0 lead.
"You can almost say we saved our best game for last," said Bargfeldt, who constantly preaches focusing on winning every phase of the game. "We had great defense, pitching and timely hitting. We had been missing on some phases and still winning. Today we hit on all of them. Their pitching was good too, so maybe that was the one phase we lacked a little. But we gave ourselves a lot more opportunities on offense than Lacey gave them. This is the kind of close game you have to win at the end of the year and in postseason."
Middlebrooks gave up both walks in the first inning, but then settled in and retired 14 batters in a row. UAB center fielder Whitney Fletcher singled with one out in the sixth inning for the only hit of the game for the Blazers (36-19, 17-7 C-USA).
UAB starter Amber Torres (10-4) retired 11 Tulsa batters in a row before third baseman Jill Barrett reached on a bunt single and shortstop Samantha Cobb singled to short. Following a fielder's choice, Middlebrooks homered with two outs in the inning.
Following the UAB base hit, Middlebrooks got a pair of ground outs to end the sixth and retired the side in order in the seventh. She induced 14 ground outs in the game, and just the single and one fly out left the infield.
Tulsa won all eight of its conference series this season for the first time in school history. It was also the only team in C-USA to win each of its league series in 2012. For the third time this season, the Hurricane won two of three games on the road after dropping the series opener.
"The regular season means a lot more to me than the tournament. It means you played the entire regular season better than anyone else," Bargfeldt said. "This is the first time I've ever had a team win every series, and that's why we can say we're the champs. You have to give it to the players to come through in pressure situations to win every series."