OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The Tennessee softball squad used three runs in the first, four in the fourth and a two-run seventh inning to take the 2013 Women’s College World Series opener between the Gators (57-8) and Lady Vols (50-10), 9-2, in front of a crowd of 7,911 at Oklahoma City’s ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
Florida narrowed Tennessee’s early 3-0 lead to 3-2 with a two-run fifth frame, but UT added six more unanswered runs to pull out the opening-round win.
In the double-elimination WCWS format, the Gators will next match up with 14th-seeded Nebraska (45-15) Saturday at noon (ET) on ESPN2 as the Huskers fell to Washington 4-3 in eight innings in the opening game of the 2013 WCWS Thursday morning when Kimberlee Souza knocked a walk-off homer for the Huskies in the bottom of the eighth. The Gators and Huskers have met just twice in program history, with the series record tied 1-1. Florida and Nebraska last met March 11, 2011 in Clearwater, Fla., as a part of the USF Under Armour Showcase. The Huskers edged Florida, 1-0, in the clash.
Florida junior ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) (0.1 IP 1 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K) faced Tennessee hurler Ellen Renfroe (7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 9 K) in the circle as both earned the starts, while Gator sophomore pitchers Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) (6.1 IP, 10 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) and Alyssa Bache (Clearwater, Fla.) (0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K) both saw action, Haeger tossing a bulk of the innings in relief, as Rogers (33-6) took the loss, E. Renfroe (18-4) the victory.
A bases-loaded walk and a two-run double from Tennessee’s Melissa Brown gave the Lady Vols a 3-0 edge in the top of the first and Florida went to work in the bottom of the inning. Freshman Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) drew a one-out walk and Haeger reached after a Tennessee fielding error for runners on first and second, but the Gators couldn’t push a run across.
In the bottom of the second, freshman Taylore Fuller (Trenton, Fla.) drilled her first WCWS base hit down the left-field line for the Gators’ first hit of the afternoon – a ball that ricocheted off the third-base umpire, but UF didn’t capitalize until the bottom of the fifth after three scoreless innings for both squads in the second, third and fourth frames.
After a leadoff walk from sophomore Jess Damico (Gray Summit, Mo.) in the fifth, followed by a stolen base, freshman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) ripped her nation-leading 10th triple of the season to the left-center gap, plating Damico and narrowing the Lady Vols’ lead, 3-1. With two down, junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) struck next by ripping a single to shallow center to score Stewart.
The Orange and Blue juiced the bags after a Haeger hit-by-pitch and senior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) walk, but a fielder’s choice for freshman first baseman Taylor Schwarz (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) ended the Gators’ fifth-inning threat.
Tennessee added four runs in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of two uncharacteristic Florida defensive errors, followed by a Kat Dotson two-RBI double to the right-field line and a Lauren Gibson RBI double down the left-field line for the 7-2 Lady Vols advantage following the top of the sixth.
Florida left two on in the bottom of the sixth after a leadoff walk from Fuller and a Stewart infield single before UT added two runs in the top of the seventh in form of a Haeger wild pitch, followed by a Dotson RBI triple to deep center for the 9-2 advantage.
Three straight groundouts in the bottom of the seventh preserved Tennessee’s lead as the Lady Vols took their second of four games between the two teams so far this season Thursday.
Florida is now 11-10 (.523) all-time in the WCWS. The Orange and Blue own a 48-30 (.615) all-time record in the NCAA Tournament, including a 43-20 (.683) record under eighth year head coach Tim Walton. Tennessee’s nine runs were the most given up by the Gators this season and the most against the Lady Vols since May 13, 1999 (11).
Read more about Florida in the WCWS in the postseason supplement. Stay posted to GatorZone.com in the coming days for all game day information. Follow the Gators on Twitter and visit the team on Facebook for all the latest on Gator softball. For broadcast and television information as it’s released, visit the UF softball schedule page.
FLORIDA PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Florida head coach, Tim Walton, and student‑athletes Lauren Haeger, Hannah Rogers, and Kelsey Stewart. We'll start with an opening comment from Coach and go to the floor with questions.
COACH WALTON: Congratulations to Tennessee. I thought they played a great game, and Ellen Renfroe threw a really good game as well. We didn't play very well. We made uncharacteristic mistakes. I thought offensively we had a chance, came back there in the fourth or fifth, whatever inning that was; I think it was the fifth. And we battled and I really give our kids credit for the fight.
We just didn't have enough, obviously, going to Lauren early in the game, and she gave us a great chance to at least keep us in the game. Overall it wasn't our best game, that's for sure.
Q. Hannah, can you just speak to what may or may not have been going on with you in the first inning?
HANNAH ROGERS: I thought Tennessee came out right off the bat. I was feeling good in the first inning, and things just weren't going my way.
Q. Did you expect him to lift you that soon? Could you feel it or were you putting more pressure on yourself with each walk?
HANNAH ROGERS: I don't know. I was just letting Coach Walton make the call – I didn't know.
Q. Hannah, in general this season, your ability to bounce back from setbacks, can you address that?
HANNAH ROGERS: Just taking it one pitch at a time and being able to be there for my team and pick them up from a loss. Just taking it one pitch at a time and letting my defense work. Just letting us go out there and let our bats work too.
Q. Lauren, could you talk about going in earlier than you expected to and after the double, really holding them at bay there until the sixth or seventh?
LAUREN HAEGER: Yeah, I mean, Hannah came out great. She was throwing hard. She was hitting her spots and making really good pitches. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way. Coach said, ‘Are you ready?’ And I was ready. If you're in relief, you have to be ready from the first inning on, but I thought Hannah came out great though.
Q. Kelsey, what did you get the sense from the dugout? You're down 0‑3 right out of the box. What did you sense at that time?
KELSEY STEWART: I thought we could come back. No one was down on each other. We came back from bigger (deficits) than this, so three runs really isn't anything.
Q. Could you talk about your decision to pull her, and when you get it to 3‑2, the momentum had changed, and the two errors lit the fuse for them?
COACH WALTON: Yeah, we had already talked to the staff that we were prepared to have the staff split it and have Hannah go four or five and Lauren finish it out. Lauren's success previous to this really made us feel confident that we had two pitchers capable of limiting Tennessee.
I didn't think that we could go with one pitcher the whole game anyway with the adjustments that they had made, the amount of times they'd seen her and things like that. So for me, Hannah was throwing some good pitches and that many walks to a team like that, I just don't feel like we can overcome a huge number. We had to try to change up the look as soon as possible.
Q. You sat in that same spot yesterday and talked about pitching and defense being what you need to have here. Any explanation on how those two things abandoned you guys?
COACH WALTON: No, I give Tennessee more credit than anything. They're a good ball club. For us, we've been doing it like this all year long in the same kind of way. We still left nine runners on base. Those are the key facts. Getting opportunities, though they're not singles and doubles, we're still getting on base and finding ways to do some things to give our offense a chance to turn the lineup over.
But, again, I give Tennessee more credit than I take away from us. I thought they looked like the better ball club today from start to finish.
Q. Two‑part question: Your team's been on a roll since the SEC Tournament. How do you think this team has been able to handle the adversity that's come their way this season? And secondly, even though you haven't played Nebraska in a couple of years, what are the characteristics of a Nebraska team?
COACH WALTON: I don't know anything about Nebraska right now. I haven't seen them. So I couldn't really respond on that. I just know that typically Coach Revelle has a great, energetic, high‑energy team and plays hard from start to finish. They're always well‑coached. Lori Sippel does a great job with the pitching staff, so I know they'll be ready to go.
As for the adversity of the season, we haven't gone through a whole lot of adversity this season, to be honest with you. This team has lost first games in series, and found a way to bounce back. We've taken every series all year long. We've lost the Friday night game of a three‑game series and found a way to bounce back, make adjustments and do things.
At the World Series, you don't get an opportunity to lose two games. So you have to make sure you come out, you're ready to go and play like it's your last.
Q. Lauren, what do you see from this team in the next day and a half getting ready to play in that game?
LAUREN HAEGER: I see nothing different. We came out ready to play. I know it's a lot of our first times being here. It was a little nerve‑racking at first. But now that we've all been there, I think we're going to come out with the same fire that we have all season. We're a team that never dies and we never quit.
We have so much fight and so much heart and we back each other up 100 percent, and I think that really helps us a lot. I have a lot of confidence that we can bounce back from this.
Q. Are you going to start Hannah in the next game?
COACH WALTON: Yeah, absolutely.