Saturday April 27, 2013Gators Claw out Victory on Special Senior Day
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kelsey Horton had a bunch of things crammed in her head when she woke up Saturday. Believe it or not, her softball game against Georgia and the emotional “Senior Day” activities before weren’t even first on the agenda.
“I had an exam this morning,” Horton said.
A Physics II final at 8:30 a.m. took precedent, but once Horton knocked that out she joined up with her Florida teammates -- including fellow senior Ensley Gammel -- to knock off the Georgia Bulldogs 5-2 for a crucial victory in the second game of the last home series of the regular season.
Sophomore Lauren Haeger made sure the third-ranked Gators and the packed house of 2,232 at Pressly Stadium sent the senior duo out in a appropriate fashion by crushing a titanic fourth-inning three-run homer and pitching a five-hit, nine-strikeout complete game.
“All seniors want to go out with a bang,” Haeger said. “I love Ensley and Hort, so I wanted to be there for my teammates.”
In the bigger picture, the Gators (46-6, 15-5) just want to be there, period; as in striking distance of Southeastern Conference-leading Tennessee (42-7, 15-4), which began the day a game up on Florida with five league contests to go.
“After last night, we needed this one,” Horton said of the team's 3-2 defeat in the series opener. “Right now, we just have to worry about taking care of us, that’s the important thing. If we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, what other teams are doing doesn’t matter.”
UF had a chance to knot up the standings Friday night, but managed only five hits and stranded eight runners in a tough loss to the Bulldogs. The Volunteers, meanwhile, were shut out 2-0 at Arkansas, so the UT lead stayed at one game.
“The softball gods were watching over us,” Haeger said.
The Gators, though, would rather fate be in their own hands. So the kind of timely hitting and aggressive base-running in this second crack against the Bulldogs was a pleasant sight for Coach Tim Walton, whose club can clinch a seventh SEC series in as many tries Sunday.
“We’ve been swinging out of our shoes lately and that’s what happens when you try to do too much,” Walton said. “I talked to them about just finding a way to get a foot down and be in a little better hitting position and making a good decision on the pitch.”
That didn’t happen in third inning. UF, already down 2-0, had two on and nobody out, but a double play helped killed the rally and Gators came away with nothing.
The fourth inning was more to Walton’s liking; and the way he wants his teams to perform, especially at the plate.
Kirsti Merritt got things started with a lead-off walk then dashed to third on a single to right by Stephanie Tofft. Next, Haeger stepped into the box and after working the count to 3-2 stepped into a pitch and rocked it about 30 feet into the pine trees over the left-field fence to give UF the lead.
It was a textbook example of planting a foot and making a decision.
“My mindset was just to make solid contact and hit it up the middle,” Haeger said. "When I do that, it usually straightens my swing out. That’s been my mentality for a while and it’s been working.”
Gammel followed, making her senior day all the more memorable, with an RBI-double off the left-field wall for a 4-2 edge. The Gators scratched together another run in the fifth, then turned things over to Haeger to shut the Dawgs door.
Senior Day win? Check.
Still on the Vols' heels? Check.
“At this point in the season, every game is going to be a fight,” said Gammel, who did not wake to an exam Saturday morning. “But this is what you work so hard for me; to be in this position. So it’s great to win a game like this ... and on a day like this.”