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Florida softball celebrates its first SEC Tournament title.

Saturday May 10, 2008Softball Wins First-Ever SEC Tournament Title

Baton Rouge, LA

Florida softball celebrates its first SEC Tournament title.

The No. 1 University of Florida Softball team (62-2) won its first ever Southeastern Conference Tournament title on Saturday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La. The Gators earned the title with a 4-1 win over No. 3 Alabama (51-6).

 

“I am very proud of the tournament championship for our program and for our players,” Head Coach Tim Walton said. “Our team has shown a lot of character and determination all season.”

 

Twice in the game, there was a sense of déjà vu in the air as senior Mary Ratliff (Mt. Sterling, Ky.) came up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded. In the sixth inning déjà vu proved true as Ratliff did as she did in Tuscaloosa earlier in the season and hit a grand slam to put the Gators in the lead. The inning started with junior Ali Gardiner (Waccabuc, N.Y.) hitting a triple to right center with one out. Freshmen Megan Bush (Anaheim Hills, Calif.) and Tiffany DeFelice (Coral Springs, Fla.) each drew full-count, two-out walks to load the bases. Then Ratliff stepped up to the plate. With a 2-2 count, Ratliff lifted the ball deep over the fence in right field for her second grand slam of the season and her ninth home run of the year. Those four runs put the Gators in the lead 4-1.

 

“I knew the ball was going out when I hit it,” Ratliff said. “I just get put in these opportunities because of how good my teammates are. All weekend teams had been walking the batters in front of me to get to me. Today I was able to come through for my team. That is what I am proudest of. At some point you just have to look yourself in the eye and step up. I hadn’t done that all weekend, but am glad I was able to today.”

 

Florida junior hurler Stacey Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) earned tournament most valuable player honors for her performance the last two days. Nelson threw the complete game, allowing Alabama only four base runners on three hits and one hit batter. She did not allow a walk and struck out four Tide batters.

 

Alabama was a tough team to get out today,” Nelson said. “They were hitting the ball hard. They kept me on my toes all game.”

 

Alabama plated the first run of the game in the top of the sixth. Brittany Rogers earned a lead off base hit through the left side, the first lead off hit of the game. She moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt from Jordan Praytor. A wild pitch from Florida hurler Nelson put Rogers just 60 feet from the first run of the game. A routine ground out from Charlotte Morgan was all it would take to score Rogers for the 1-0 Alabama lead.

 

Alabama put the first runner of the game on base in the top of the first as Charlotte Morgan reached on a Gator error. But it was the Gators who got the first hit of the game as DeFelice drove a standup double to the center field wall. Alabama put up its first mark in the hit column in the top of the third as Whitney Larsen lifted a double to right.

 

Both teams’ bats began to heat up in the fourth. With two outs in the top of the inning, Alabama’s Dani Woods drove a base hit up the middle. She stole second to move into scoring position, but Kellie Eubanks flew out to left to end the threat.

 

The Gators went to work in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Gardiner knocked a 3-0 pitch to left center. Sophomore Francesca Enea (Woodland Hills, Calif.) followed with a second base hit to left center. With two outs DeFelice was hit by a Kelsi Dunne pitch to load the bases for Ratliff. This time Ratliff would send a ball deep to be caught by Tide right fielder Woods to end the inning.

 

Both teams’ batters went down in order in the fifth, bringing the game to the top of the scoring sixth.

 

Dunne took the loss for Alabama, moving her record to 22-4 on the season. Nelson’s win improved her to 40-2.

 

In addition to Nelson, Gardiner, Ratliff and Enea were named to the All-Tournament team. Morgan, Larsen and Dunner made the team for Alabama, as did Erin Webb and Tonya Callahan from Tennessee and Shannon Stein and Quinlon Duhon from LSU.

 

Florida now awaits word on its NCAA Tournament seeding and regional location. The selection show airs live on ESPNU at 10 p.m. ET.  

 

 

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