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Gators sophomore Lauren Haeger was the star in Saturday's win over USF with a homer, double and seven RBIs.

Saturday May 18, 2013Haeger's Heroics Lift Gators Past USF and Nevins

Gators sophomore Lauren Haeger was the star in Saturday's win over USF with a homer, double and seven RBIs.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The temperature at Pressly Stadium was climbing fast Saturday afternoon as Lauren Haeger stepped to the plate for the first time.

The tension was turned up a notch, too. USF already led the Gators in the Gainesville Regional matchup and Bulls ace Sara Nevins loomed in the circle.

The last time Nevins threw a pitch at the cozy ballpark off Hull Road it led to the Bulls celebrating a 1-0 win over the Gators and the 2012 Gainesville Regional title.

But Nevins didn’t look as sharp Saturday, allowing a leadoff single to Kelsey Stewart, hitting Kirsti Merritt with a pitch and striking out Stephanie Tofft prior to a power-versus-power clash with Haeger, Florida’s cleanup hitter.

Haeger worked the count full and stayed alive by fouling off multiple pitches.

And then with one swing Haeger put a charge into a Nevins’ pitch and the crowd, connecting on a three-run homer that sparked Florida to an 11-1 victory. Florida advanced to Sunday’s title game with the victory.

As for Haeger, it was a trot around the bases she clearly enjoyed.

“That whole at-bat I was just fighting 3-2,’’ Haeger said. “I knew they weren’t trying to walk me. They were just coming right at me. She threw a curveball in. I fouled a couple off and I got my timing just right to barely make it. I’ve seen her a bunch of times and I just really have to get my timing right when I’m hitting against her,’’

When Bulls left fielder Courtney Goff finally ran out of room at the wall, the Gators rushed from the dugout to meet Haeger when she finished rounding the bases.

The Gators knew how big the hit was, especially against Nevins, who pitched 22 2/3 scoreless innings in the Big East Tournament last week to win MVP honors and lead the Bulls to their first Big East title.

“That’s the difference in the game, no question,’’ Gators coach Tim Walton said. “Being down 1-0 in the fourth, fifth and six innings, swings change. For Lauren to get us going with that three-run homer, it changed all the momentum potentially that we could have either had or lost having runners on base. It was a huge at-bat for us.”

By the time Nevins went through the lineup once, the Gators led 4-1 after No. 8 hitter Taylore Fuller connected for a solo homer. Nevins entered the game having allowed only four home runs in 204 innings this season. She didn’t make it out of the second inning Saturday after the Gators loaded the bases with one out.

With Haeger due up, USF coach Ken Eriksen opted to pull Nevins and insert reliever Sam Greiner. Haeger welcomed her to Gainesville with a three-run double off the center-field wall. Florida led 7-1 and the rout was officially on.

“I knew they were going to go right at me again,’’ Haeger said.

In her third at-bat, Haeger once again stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. This time she was hit on the hand by a pitch, driving in another run. She finished 2-for-2 with a career-high seven RBIs in the best game of her postseason career.

The sophomore pitcher/first baseman from Peoria, Ariz., upped her season totals to 18 home runs and 70 RBIs. She is second on the team with a .337 batting average and a team-high .721 slugging percentage. If the Gators play deep into the postseason, Haeger should have a chance to challenge Florida’s single-season records for home runs (Brittany Schutte, 22, in 2011) and RBIs (Megan Bush, 80, in 2011).

Haeger could not have delivered at a more opportune time.

Nevins twirled a five-hit shutout last year to end Florida’s season as Haeger went 1-for-3 with a strikeout and stranded two runners on base. The Gators know they could face her again Sunday if USF is able to survive an elimination game Saturday night.

“We know how tough she is and we know how good she is,’’ Walton said. “She is still good. Just because we got a W today, we’ve got our work cut out if we face her again. She’s nasty. When she’s got that curveball going on your hands and then going away from you, it’s a tough pitch to hit.”

If Haeger swings like she did Saturday, it might not matter.

 

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