GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Katie Medina explained how she stepped to the plate in the bottom of the seventh just looking for a pitch to drive. It’s a phrase you often hear from hitters in clutch situations.
The Florida sophomore shortstop also said she went into the batter’s box with confidence. That’s not a phrase you often hear from a starting player in the midst of an 0-for-16 slump that’s lasted nearly a month.
“I knew my team was behind me,” Medina said.
When the game was over, her team was piling on top of her after Medina roped a line drive into shallow left field to give the second-ranked Gators a thrilling 4-3 walk-off win over UAB Saturday in Game 1 of their NCAA Super Regional series at Pressly Stadium.
Medina’s timely single -- 29 days and 12 games in the making -- was the only hit in a stunning two-run rally that moved UF just one win away from a berth in the College World Series.
“That’s what we do,” Coach Tim Walton said.
Indeed, this is Florida 2013. The Gators just find a way to put themselves in position to win. Sometimes, like Saturday, even when it seems like they’ve put themselves in position to lose.
Take UAB’s seventh inning, for example.
The game was tied 2-2 when the Blazers, a feisty bunch who last week ousted powerhouse UCLA in a 13-inning test of wills, capitalized on some Florida misfortune. With two outs, UAB’s Whitney Fletcher hit a routine pop UF first baseman Taylor Schwarz, who just six innings early committed her first error of the season to hand the Blazers a 1-0 lead.
Schwarz got under the ball, but lost it in the sun. It landed on the ground, then spun into foul territory.
Back Fletcher went to the box. Three Hannah Rogers pitches later, Fletcher drew a walk.
The next batter, Kate Armstrong, singled to right field. And then Megan McGrath lashed a base hit over Medina’s out-stretched glove, scoring Fletcher. Just like that, Florida was down 3-2.
As if those second-chance demons dancing in the Gators’ heads weren’t enough, UF was still smarting from the half-inning before when, with the game tied, it loaded the bases and failed to score a run.
Or at least they should have been still smarting. A lot of clubs would have been.
“But this team never stops fighting,” sophomore outfielder Briana Little said.
And does whatever it takes, which brings us to the Florida seventh.
With complete disregard for the letdown of the Blazers' top half of the inning, not to mention the frustration in failing to score with so many chances in the sixth, the Gators promptly loaded the bases -- get this -- without a hit.
Back-to-back walks to Lauren Haeger and Kelsey Horton put the tying run at second. Back-to-back hit batsmen scored Haeger for the tie and put Horton on third with the winning run, sending the packed house into delirium.
Enter the .206-hitting shortstop; a player who all season has been pinch-hit for once a game; whose role is basically to play defense and bunt runners over; whose last hit was way back on April 26; as in hitless in the last two games against Georgia, an entire series at South Carolina, all three games in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, plus three last week in the sub-regional.
Yet, she was confident.
Her teammates, in turn, had confidence in her.
“Oh-for-16 or 16-for-16, it doesn’t matter,” Horton said. “We know somebody on this team is going to come through. It was her turn.”
Walton said it best.
That’s what these Gators do.
“Every kid in that dugout was rooting and screaming Katie’s name,” he said. “To be able to come through in that situation ... that’s huge.”
Now they’re one win from doing it all the way to Oklahoma City.