Sunday May 8, 2011No. 4 Florida Softball Clinches Fourth Straight SEC Eastern Division Title with 7-2 Sweep Over No. 3 Tennessee
The No. 4/6 University of Florida softball team completed its fifth three-game Southeastern Conference sweep of the season, defeating No. 3/5 Tennessee, 7-2, in the series finale Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of 1,639 to earn the program’s fourth consecutive SEC Eastern Division title, fifth overall. The Gators will head into the SEC Tournament Thursday having won 17 of their last 18 contests.
In the second day of senior weekend ceremonies, the Florida program and Gator faithful celebrated the contributions of seniors Kelsey Bruder (Corona, Calif.), Megan Bush (Anaheim Hills, Calif.) and Aja Paculba (Wildomar, Calif.) in a pre-game ceremony after honoring pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) and catcher Tiffany DeFelice (Coral Springs, Fla.) Saturday. This year’s senior class concluded its last regular-season series with an overall record of 229-28 (.891) and a 94-13 (.878) SEC mark.
Paculba shined on her senior day, going 2-for-3 with two runs, one RBI and a walk, while sophomore Brittany Schutte (Fountain Valley, Calif.) and junior Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) each went 2-for-4 to down the Vols.
Tennessee opened the scoring in the top of the first inning. After a groundball from right fielder Kat Dotson found a hole through the right side of Florida’s infield, second baseman Lauren Gibson hit a double off the wall in left center to give the Lady Vols a 1-0 lead.
The Gators answered in the bottom of the frame, taking advantage of two Tennessee defensive miscues to plate two runs, both coming with two outs. With one down, second baseman Paculba fought off a two-strike pitch on the outside corner from Lady Vol starter Ellen Renfroe to right field. UT’s Dotson got there in time but the line drive glanced off her glove for an error as Paculba scampered to third on the play. Two batters later, Schutte poked a single up the middle to even the score at one. Bush followed with a grounder to short that Tennessee’s Madison Shipman bobbled, giving the Orange and Blue runners on first and second. DeFelice then delivered a sharp single to center to put Florida in front 2-1.
Florida added a single run in the bottom of the second to extend the lead to 3-1. With two outs, Moultrie sliced an opposite-field double to left center on a full count pitch. Paculba next slapped a single up the middle to score Moultrie.
After freshman hurler Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) posted consecutive zeros in the third and fourth stanzas, the Gators broke the game open in their half of the fourth. On the first offering of the inning from UT reliever Ivy Renfroe, designated player Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) lofted a deep fly ball to left field that landed over the fence for her seventh homer of the campaign. After a Kasey Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) groundout, Moultrie blooped a single to center for her second hit of the game. Paculba and Bruder drew back-to-back walks from Ivy Renfroe to load the bases as Ellen Renfroe re-entered the circle for Tennessee. Schutte greeted her with a laser that grazed the top of UT first baseman Shelby Burchell’s glove and ended up in right field, allowing Moultrie and Paculba to cross the dish, making it 6-1 while leaving runners on the corners. After Schutte stole second to put two in scoring position, a passed ball gave Florida its seventh run of the contest as Bruder scored.
Tennessee shortstop Madison Shipman hit a home run on the first pitch of the fifth inning from Rogers to close the scoring. The Gator righthander needed only 12 pitches to retire the next six hitters, swiftly putting an end to any momentum gained. Trailing by five in the top of the seventh, the Lady Vols mustered one last threat after two free passes but a comebacker from left fielder Raven Chavanne was snared by Rogers and she threw over to Bush at first to secure the victory.
Rogers improved to 30-5 on the year, limiting an aggressive Tennessee offense by throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of 28 batters and inducing early swings throughout, tossing her 24th complete game in just 73 pitches. She allowed two earned runs while scattering five hits, walked three and fanned two in the efficient effort.
Tennessee starter Ellen Renfroe (23-5) absorbed her second loss of the three-game set after conceding three runs (one earned) on eight hits while striking out four without a walk.