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The Boise State softball team opened NCAA Tournament play Friday with a dominant, 9-1 victory against Stanford in the Gainesville (Florida) Regional.
The third-seeded Broncos, fresh off the first NCAA win in program history, will face top-seeded Florida at noon MT Saturday in the winners bracket. Second-seeded Stanford (32-19) will play Boston University, which lost to Florida 3-0.
Boise State’s athletic department has struggled in NCAA tournament action historically but the volleyball team won a first-round match in 2016. The Broncos softball team went 0-2 in its NCAA debut last year.
“I’m just so happy for the girls,” first-year Boise State coach Maggie Livreri said in a telephone interview. “They’ve worked really hard to get to this point, especially the seniors. They came into a program that had had little success and were able to change the program culturally. Now they’re in a position where we’re being talked about on a national landscape. It’s a foundation for something we want to build.”
The host Florida Gators are ranked No. 8 in the nation.
It’s a double-elimination tournament, so the Broncos (35-14) will play a third game either in a loser-out contest at 5 p.m. Saturday or in the regional final on Sunday.
Based on the final Mountain West standings, Boise State was a somewhat controversial at-large pick for the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos finished fifth in the standings but were chosen for the tournament instead of San Jose State, UNLV and Fresno State. Colorado State earned the league’s only automatic bid.
However, the Broncos had the second-best RPI in the conference at No. 40 and received a bid largely on the merit of their strong nonconference showing that included a program-record 17-game winning streak. After Friday’s victory, Boise State is now 23-2 against nonconference opponents and 17-1 in neutral-site matchups.
The Broncos entered the postseason as a top-10 offensive team — and that showed against the Cardinal. The Broncos broke through for five runs in the top of the fourth inning through a series of lengthy at-bats, often fouling off two-strike pitches (ESPN had counted 23 two-strike fouls midway through the fifth inning). They added four runs in the seventh to build a 9-0 lead.
Rebekah Cervantes started the scoring with a solo homer.
“We tried to stay with our game plan, be prepared for who we’re going to face and kind of wore them down a little bit,” Livreri said.
Junior pitcher Kelsey Broadus threw a complete game with just an unearned run in the seventh. She allowed six hits and two walks with one strikeout.
“Kelsey was fantastic,” Livreri said. “She pounded the (strike) zone. ... Going the full distance showed a lot of strength and determination to finish strong.”
Boise State lost to Florida in the teams’ only meeting in 2012. The Gators are led by pitcher Kelly Barnhill, one of the nation’s best.
“Kelly Barnhill is one of the hardest throwers in the country,” Livreri said earlier in the week. “(She’s) gonna be tough for anybody to face.”
Rachel Roberts contributed to this report.