Saturday May 24, 2008Softball Ties NCAA Wins Record While Advancing to First Women's College World Series
The top-seeded University of Florida softball team will be making its first-ever trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series after defeating the Cal Bears, 4-2, in a nine-inning dogfight at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville Saturday afternoon.
“It means a lot (to go to the World Series),” Florida junior pitcher Stacey Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) said. “I remember three years ago we weren’t even able to get out of a regional. In three years, this program has been able to do a lot. Looking back and seeing the steps the we’ve taken, it feels really good to be at this point.”
In addition to continuing the school-record breaking season, the Gators also put their names in the NCAA record book as they tied the NCAA record for single season wins, becoming only the fourth team in NCAA Softball history to record 67 wins in a season. The other teams were the 1998 Arizona team (67-4), 1999 Illinois-Chicago (67-17) and the 2005 Tennessee Lady Vols (67-15).
“What a great day,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said. “What a great day for all these young ladies that played their hearts out and gave us everything they had. No matter what you have or where you’re at, you can’t do it without your players. I have to tip my hat to Cal. I thought they did a great job. They are a great program. I think, with our fans, being here at home and having the kids we have on this team, we showed how tough we are. I can’t be more proud of this group right now.”
Florida led from the first inning, but a quick two runs with two outs in the sixth from Cal tied the game. Both teams fought tough through the next three innings before the Gators bats came alive in the ninth. The bottom three batters in the Gator lineup had gone 0-for-7 in the first eight innings, but hit 2-for-3 and scored both the game-winning run and an insurance run in the ninth. Four of Florida’s 10 hits on the day came in the final inning. Three different Gators put down multiple hits on the day as junior Kim Waleszonia (Fontana, Calif.), sophomore Francesca Enea (Woodland Hills, Calif.) and freshman Aja Paculba (Wildomar, Calif.) each recorded two hits on the day.
Nelson continued her strong post-season performance as she allowed only three Cal hits, walked two and struck out nine. She has struck out 39 batters in NCAA tournament play, including 19 in the two Super Regional games. She has given up only two earned runs in 41.2 innings of NCAA play. Her record is now 45-3 on the season.
“I though Stacey pitched a phenomenal game and has had a phenomenal season for us,” Walton said. “Megan Bush came through for us with a big hit as a freshman. Francesca has been consistent throughout this post season.”
Freshman Megan Bush (Anaheim Hills, Calif.) gave Florida the boost they needed as she led off the top of the ninth with her 13th home run of the season on a 0-2 count. Sophomore Corrie Brooks (Christmas, Fla.) grabbed her first hit of the game for a base hit through the left side with one out. Junior Danyell Hines (Bryan, Texas) came in to pinch run for her. Waleszonia followed with a bunt single. The third consecutive hit of the inning, this time by Paculba brought in Brooks for the 4-2 lead. The run prompted Cal to bring in Valerie Arioto to take over for Marissa Drewrey in the circle. Arioto gave up a walk to junior Ali Gardiner (Waccabuc, N.Y.) before striking out the final two batters. As they had been all game, the Gator defense stood strong in the bottom of the ninth, and with the help of an enthusiastic crowd of 2,082 sat down the Bears in order for the win.
“There was a little bit of weight lifted off my shoulders,” Bush said of her feelings after hitting the game winning home run. “I’ve been in a slump the past couple of games, and the only way I know how to get out of a slump is to go up there and try my best. It is such a great way to end the series.”
The Gators were the first team on the board, as aggressive base running put them up 1-0 in the top of the third. Waleszonia led off with a base hit through the left side. She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Paculba. Gardiner drew a walk from Cal starting pitcher Drewrey. Enea reached on a fielder’s choice and Ratliff moved to third as Gardiner was put out on second. With a 1-1 count on senior Mary Ratliff (Mt. Sterling, Ky.), Enea made a move to steal second. Cal catcher Julie Meyer threw down to second, giving Waleszonia the chance to come home. The throw to catch Waleszonia was late, giving her the stolen base and the run for the 1-0 lead. Enea reached second on a throwing error on the run down. Ratliff then got to finish her at bat as she was intentionally walked putting runners at first and second with two outs. Freshman Kelsey Bruder (Corona, Calif.) came in to pinch hit, but grounded out to second to end the inning.
Florida took a two-run lead in the fifth. With one out, Paculba ripped a base hit up the middle. With two outs, Enea dropped a double right inside the left field foul line right in front of the warning track, scoring Paculba from first for the 2-0 lead. The RBI was Enea’s 60th of the season, tying her with Emily Marino for the school record for single season RBI. Marino set the record in 2000.
Cal tied the game in the bottom of the sixth capitalizing on two hits and a Gator error. Valerie Arioto led off the inning with a base hit up the middle. Following two Nelson strikeouts, a Gator error found Bernice Masanai safe at first. Shannon Houston entered the game to pinch run for her. Vickers knocked a double to left that glanced off the glove of diving junior left fielder Brooke Johnson (Lakeland, Fla.), scoring both runs and tying the game at 2-2. The Gator defense would prevent any further damage from being down though as Bush ran to left field to recover the ball and threw a strike to Brooks at third who applied the tag on Vickers for the third out of the inning.
Paculba reached on a one-out walk in the seventh, but Gardiner lined into a double play to end the Gator half of the inning. The Gator defense sat the Bears down in order in the bottom of the seventh to send the game into extra innings.
Enea led off the Gator eighth with a base hit, but a double play line out and a strikeout quickly ended the half inning. Cal again went down in order to send the game to the ninth.
Florida got the first hit of the game in the top of the first as Gardiner poked a base hit to left with two outs.
Florida offered its first big threat in the top of the second. Ratliff led off with a base hit down the left field line. She became Florida’s first runner in scoring position as she moved to second on a DeFelice sacrifice bunt. She almost got doubled up at second as Cal third baseman Katie Vickers caught a line drive off Bush’s bat, but Vickers launched the ball into center field, allowing Ratliff to move to third with two outs in the inning. The threat would end there though as Brooks held tough for 11 pitches before going down on strikes for the final out of the inning.
After the Gator defense retired the first six batters of the game, the Bears got their first hit to lead off the bottom of the third. Vernae Sevilla knocked Cal’s first extra base hit of the Super Regional to left field. She moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Meyer. Nelson caught Taylor Kelly looking for the second out of the inning. A walk was issued to Arioto to put Bears on the corners, but pinch hitter Lauren Bauer grounded out to Paculba to end the inning.
Cal put a runner on in the fourth as Gina Leomiti drew the second walk of the day from Nelson. The Gator defense was sharp though, as the put Leomiti out at second on a fielder’s choice and retired the next two batters on a ground out and a strikeout from Nelson.
Drewrey took the loss for Cal to end her season with a 29-20 record. She gave up all 10 Gator hits with five walks and seven strikeouts in 8.1 innings. Arioto pitched the final two outs with a walk and two Ks.
The Women’s College World Series runs Thursday, May 29 to Wednesday, June 4 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla. Florida will play Louisiana-Lafayette who won the Baton Rouge Regional and then took the Houston Super Regional in three games. Times for the games will be released late Sunday night or early Monday morning after the entire field has been determined. Opening ceremonies for the WCWS are Tuesday, May 27 at the Party at the Park at the ASA Stadium. The event begins at 7:30 with the introduction of the eight participating teams. Country music star Luke Bryan will perform a free concert at 8:30 p.m. Stay tuned to GatorZone.com for the most up-to-date information on Florida’s trip to the WCWS. For general information on the WCWS or Oklahoma City, please log on to www.ncaasports.com or www.okcallsports.org.