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Photo by Chet White

Sunday May 12, 2013SEC Champions: Softball Sweeps SEC Regular Season and Tournament Titles with 10-4 Victory Over Mizzou

Lexington, Ky.

Photo by Chet White

WATCH: SEC Championship Game Recap

WATCH: Postgame Press Conference (Walton, Horton & Merritt)

 

Five extra-base hits, including three bombs, helped lead the No. 2/3 Gator softball squad to a 10-4 victory over Missouri for the 2013 SEC Tournament Championship Saturday, as the Orange and Blue swept both the regular-season and SEC Tournament titles for the third time in Florida history. Behind SEC Tournament MVP and Gator freshman centerfielder Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.), UF improved to 52-7 on the year and will wait for NCAA tournament seeding, announced at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPNU’s NCAA Softball Selection Show.

 

Working from behind for their 18th come-from-behind of the year, Florida’s first two hits Saturday evening both left the yard as senior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) and Merritt both ripped two-run blasts to get the Gators rolling offensively.

 

After clinching their fourth SEC Championship in school history last week, the Gators returned to defeat Alabama (8-4), Georgia (9-5) and finally Missouri (10-4) for their third SEC Tournament Title after also winning both the regular season and SEC tourney in 2008 and 2009. UF played in the tourney championship for the sixth time in program history and improved to 14-5 (.736) in the conference tournament under 2013 SEC Coach of the Year Tim Walton.

 

Three freshmen in first baseman Taylor Schwarz (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), second baseman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.), Merritt and junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) represented the Orange and Blue on the SEC All-Tournament Team.

 

After a RBI double and a solo home run from Missouri in the first and second innings, respectively, for the 2-0 Tigers lead early, one swing of the bat in the bottom of the second from Horton knotted things up between the Gators and Tigers.

 

Sophomore starting pitcher Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) first drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a Chelsea Thomas wild pitch before Horton sent her ninth bomb of the year to straight-away center for a 2-2 ballgame after the second frame. Haeger (4.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) picked up the win to improve to 15-2 on the season, while junior ace Hannah Rogers (Peoria, Ariz.) came on for three innings of relief (3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) to pick up her fourth save of the season.

 

Missouri opted to go with senior Lindsey Muller in the circle in the bottom of the third and the Gators made the Tigers pay after Stewart drew a leadoff walk as Merritt left the yard with a two-run blast of her own for the 4-2 Gator lead, chasing Muller from the circle in favor of senior Nicole Hudson.

 

A Stewart two-RBI triple – her staggering ninth of the season – ripped to the left-center wall plated freshman pinch runner Taylore Fuller (Trenton, Fla.) and sophomore Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) in the bottom of the fourth for the 6-2 Orange and Blue lead, Fuller running for sophomore Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), who singled to left field and Medina who reached on a fielder’s choice in the inning.

 

Rogers, who picked up the win in UF’s semifinal victory over Georgia, came on in relief of Haeger in the circle in the fifth inning. After back-to-back doubles, including a Hudson RBI double to narrow UF’s lead, 6-3, Rogers sat down the next three batters to bring up the bottom of the fifth.

 

Tofft earned the run back for the Gators in the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff bomb over the right-field fence to give the Gators a four-run cushion with their fourth extra-base hit of the evening. Countering with a homer of her own, the Tigers’ Rachel Hay sent a solo homer over the left-field fence for a 7-4 ballgame after the top of the sixth inning.

 

Tofft and Haeger teamed up for UF’s eighth, ninth and 10th runs of the game for Florida in the bottom of the sixth, Tofft with a RBI single to left field and Haeger with a two-RBI double to the right-center gap for the 10-4 advantage.

 

Rogers closed it out for the Gators in the top of the seventh, dealing out a two-out walk before fanning Mackenzie Sykes in dramatic fashion for the championship victory.

 

Florida is now 22-23 (.488) all-time in the SEC Tournament. The Gators are 14-4 (.777) against top-25 opponents, tops in the SEC, own 18 come-from-behind wins – seven in SEC regular-season play – and are 5-2 (.714) in extra-inning games in 2013. Florida owns 18 shutouts, paced by Rogers’ nine.

 

CHAMPIONSHIP POSTGAME QUOTES

Head Coach Tim Walton

Opening Statement …

“Well, first we want to congratulate Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee for getting this far. It is a long season and we play a lot of games and there are just a lot of classy performances. Missouri has one of the best offenses that I have seen in a long time. There are a lot of great hitters in that lineup, and Chelsea Thomas is a beast. I’m proud of my players of how they competed and how they composed themselves. The celebration you saw was long overdue. The celebration on the field was more of a carryover from last week’s championship to this week’s championship. Commissioner Slive put on a great event and to Kentucky, Mr. (Mitch) Barnhart and the staff here as well. They probably haven’t hosted a softball event in a long time and to put on an event like that through the weather and the rain it means a lot to our student-athletes. I’m proud to be the coach of this team and how they compete. I’m thankful that we got it done.”

 

On the game plan for the game…

“I wasn’t sure who we were going to face, so we didn’t have one. We did not have one for (Nicole) Hudson or for (Chelsea) Thomas. I told my team before the game that no matter how many we are down or ahead to make sure you keep going and not get caught up in the score. This Missouri team has been down and scored a ton. They also have the blood in the water mentality, as they will pound you once they sense you are down. We just tried to focus on our at bats.”

 

#20, Kelsey Horton, OF

On her confidence …

“I think I was having some pretty good at bats this weekend. I just wasn’t getting hits. It boosted my confidence, towards the end of the Georgia game, getting some hits. I felt confidence going into tonight against Mizzou and not worrying about who was pitching, just worrying about myself really helped me out tonight.”

 

On winning the SEC Tournament her senior year…

“It was just great to be able to hold that trophy with Ensley (Gammel). I’ve been here four years on some really good teams, and we haven’t won an SEC title or an SEC Tournament Title yet so I’m so happy my senior year, I could go out that way.”

 

#24, Kirsti Merritt, OF

On her team’s performance through the tournament …

“It was surprising. We just came out. Coach (Walton) has been working with us on hitting. We hit almost every day. It wasn’t surprising that we’re all hitting so well. It was exciting that we came out here and did our thing.”

 

On winning the SEC Tournament …

“It’s a first so it was really exciting. I’ve never done that, so it was fun.”

 

NEXT UP

The Orange & Blue will await 2013 NCAA Championship seeding, to be released Sunday evening at 10 p.m. on ESPNU as part of the 2013 NCAA Softball Tournament Selection Show. Florida was the No. 5 national seed last season 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.

 

 

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