Saturday May 4, 2013Florida Softball Wins Final SEC Series, Splits DH With South Carolina to Wrap Up Regular-Season Play
The No. 2/3 Gator softball squad split a Saturday doubleheader with South Carolina in Columbia, taking game one of the twin bill over the Gamecocks, 3-2, in eight innings to clinch the series, before USC claimed a 2-1 victory in game two to wrap up regular-season play for both squads at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field.
The Orange and Blue improved to 49-7 on the season and 18-6 in Southeastern Conference play, having notched series wins in all eight league sets this season. Florida will await results of this weekend’s remaining league games to determine the SEC regular-season champion, along with tournament seeding for the upcoming SEC Tournament in Lexington, Ky., May 8-11.
UF’s 49 victories pace the nation and the Gators are just a win away from their fifth 50-win season in program history.
Junior ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) earned both decisions in the circle for UF Saturday, moving to 28-5 on the season. The Gators were paced by sophomore Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) and Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) through the three-game series with the Gamecocks, as both batted .400 (4-for-10). Florida put up eight extra-base hits on the weekend, seven doubles and a blast from Merritt Saturday.
Merritt’s two-out solo shot in the top of the eighth proved to be the game-winner for the Gators in game one of the twin bill Saturday between the Gators and Gamecocks, as UF played free softball for the seventh time this season, improving to 5-2 in extras with its 17th come-from-behind this season.
Haeger started things off for the Orange and Blue in the circle in game one before Rogers came on for four innings of scoreless relief with three Ks to earn the win.
Tofft knocked two doubles in game one of the doubleheader, her 16th and 17th two-baggers of the season, and is now three shy of the single-season school record 20. Freshman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) was 2-for-3 in game two of the doubleheader, taking sole possession of the single-season freshman hits record with 77 on the year.
Florida put up six hits in game one, paced by Merritt and Tofft, who each turned in two. In the nightcap, Stewart had two of UF’s three, while Merritt claimed the other. Florida worked the Gamecocks for seven free passes in game two, but a Shelby Gonzales two-run home run gave USC a 2-1 lead in the fourth it wouldn’t relinquish, despite a feisty Gator squad.
In game one, an Ashlyn Masters sacrifice fly and Chelsea Hawkins RBI single up the middle gave the Gamecocks an early 2-0 lead after the first frame, but the Gators battled back in the fourth with three hits and a two spot on the scoreboard to knot things up between the two clubs.
Tofft first connected with a one-out RBI double in the top of the fourth to plate Merritt, who set things up with her seventh double of the season. Both Tofft and Merritt hit the same sweet spot in left center at Beckham Field before Haeger delivered a RBI single up the middle to bring Tofft across the dish for the 2-2 tie ballgame.
The Gators kept the rally going in the fifth with a sophomore Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.) leadoff double, her second in as many days, while sophomore Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) bunted her over to third. South Carolina starting pitcher Audrey Broyles was successful in holding the Gators scoreless, though, with a strikeout and fly out at the top of the order to take the game to the bottom of the inning.
With USC threatening in the bottom of the fifth with two runners on board and no outs after a pair of HBP, the Gators traded Haeger in the circle for Rogers, who was effective in retiring the next three Carolina batters after a sac bunt, line out and ground out to Medina at short stop.
A 2-2 tie ballgame made the final two frames. Following a scoreless sixth for both squads, USC relief hurler and Friday night starter Julie Sarratt retired the Gators in order in the top of the seventh, and after a one-out single for Kristen Struett in the bottom of the seventh, Florida turned an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to force extras.
With two down in the top of the eighth, Merritt’s fourth long ball of the season cleared the right-field fence to take the Gators ahead, 3-2, and proving to be the game-winner, her fourth blast of the season.
A Shelby Gonzales two-out double to the right-center gap made things interesting in the bottom of the eighth, but Rogers fanned Gamecock Codee Yeske, her third K of the game, for the third out in the bottom of the eighth for the Gator victory.
In game two, the Gators grinded, first plating one run in the top of the fourth after Little and Medina started a rally by drawing one out walks. The duo chased Sarratt from the circle as South Carolina brought Katie Marks on. Next, Little and Medina moved to third and second, respectively, on a Shelby Gonzales passed ball before Little scampered home on a Marks wild pitch for the 1-0 Florida lead.
Carolina battled back though, using a Shelby Gonzales two-run homer, the eventual game-winner, in the bottom of the fourth to go ahead of Florida, 2-1, heading to the fifth inning.
The Gators didn’t back down, as Merritt knocked a leadoff double to center in the fifth and moved to third on a passed ball for a runner in scoring position with no outs. Marks fanned Tofft and forced Haeger and senior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) to pop up to keep UF off the scoreboard. Rogers went to work in the bottom of the inning to sit the side down, including some stellar defensive plays, highlighted by a diving catch in foul territory for Little in left field.
In the sixth, Florida went three up, three down in the top half of the inning, while Kristen Struett led off the home half of the inning with a double, but Rogers successfully retired the side after to bring up the seventh.
Forida showed fight, working to bases loaded with just three outs to work with. The Gators first capitalized on a South Carolina fielding error to put sophomore pinch hitter Jess Damico (Gray Summit, Mo.) on board before Stewart laid down a bunt single. Two consecutive outs brought Haeger to the plate and the Gamecocks opted to intentionally walk UF’s home-run hitter for bases loaded to bring up Horton. Facing a full count, Horton was called out on a checked swing, stranding three runners on for the Orange and Blue.
Marks (3.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) picked up the win in the circle to improve to 8-7 for the Gamecocks, while Rogers (6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) shouldered just her fifth loss of the season to move to 28-5 on the year.
The Orange & Blue will next head to Lexington, Ky., for the 2013 SEC Tournament May 8-11, hosted this year by Kentucky. The complete 2013 SEC Tournament will once again air on ESPNU, with the Championship Game slated to be broadcast on ESPN2. Florida has three SEC Championships (1998, 2008 and 2009), has won the SEC Eastern Division five times (1998, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011) and has been a top-five national seed in the NCAA Tournament the past five years.
For live updates, box scores, stats, pictures and recaps throughout the season, be sure to visit UF on GatorZone, follow the Gators on Twitter and visit the team on Facebook for all the latest on Gator softball. For broadcast and television information, visit the UF softball schedule page