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Sunday June 2, 2013Gator Softball Survives Wild Night, Defeats Nebraska 9-8 in Record 15 Innings; Next Up Texas

Oklahoma City, Okla.

READ: Chris Harry on UF's Marathon Thriller Saturday

WATCH: Postgame Press Conference (Walton, Little, Merritt, Rogers, Stewart, Tofft)

 

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – In an epic WCWS elimination game Saturday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in OKC, it took a school-record 15 innings, seven ties, lead changes and two Florida runs in the top of the 15th inning for the Gator softball squad to solidify a 9-8 victory over Nebraska (45-16), earn a date with Texas Sunday and stay alive in the 2013 WCWS.

 

In the double-elimination WCWS format, the Gators will next match up with the Texas Longhorns (50-9) in a second elimination game at 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday on ESPN. Florida holds a 5-2 all-time advantage over Texas and has never faced the Longhorns in the Women’s College World Series. The two programs last met Feb. 24, 2012, at the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs and the Gators emerged with a 5-1 victory.

 

The Orange and Blue (58-8) erased an early 2-0 deficit against the Huskers Saturday with a monster six-run fifth inning to rally back for a 6-2 lead in the top of the frame. Nebraska added a third run in the bottom of the sixth before also putting up three in a chaotic seventh inning to twirl the game into extras, 6-6, UF’s eighth extra-innings contest of the season.

 

After the squads traded homers in the 10th inning, sophomore Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.) going yard for the Gators in the top of the inning and Taylor Edwards sending a homer over the fence to lead off the bottom of the inning, four scoreless innings of free softball ensued with the game tied at 7-7 for the standing room only crowd at Hall of Fame Stadium.

 

In the top of the 15th, something gave when a freshman Taylore Fuller (Trenton, Fla.) grounder skipped past Nebraska shortstop Alicia Armstrong and into right center field, allowing a pair of Gators runners to score what turned out to be the decisive runs.

 

Florida would need both of those runs as Nebraska led off the bottom of the 15th with a double and got within 9-8 in the home half of the inning. Tatum Edwards drew a two-out walk and Gabby Banda followed with a single to left side, but Edwards was gunned down by Medina trying to get to third base. The game that started at 6:04 local time ended at 11:24 and the15-inning clash was the longest in UF softball history. The marathon additionally marked the longest under the new WCWS format.

 

Junior ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) rebounded Saturday and hurled the first seven innings of UF’s Saturday elimination game for the Orange and Blue (8.0 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K) before coming on for the final frame to pick up her fifth save of the season in the 15th and final inning. Sophomore righty Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) came on in relief in extras with the game tied 7-7 to pick up the decision for the Gators (7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) and improve to 16-2 in the circle for Florida.

 

A total of 534 pitches were hurled Saturday night, as all four pitchers – two for each squad – eclipsed the 100 mark, with Husker starting pitcher Tatum Edwards tossing 185 on the night. Little’s eight at bats Saturday set a new Florida individual game record, while the Gators’ 62 at bats as a team were a new single-game team record. Tatum Edwards (9.1 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 12 K) started the game for Nebraska and, like Rogers, was relieved but came back on in the circle later in the game and picked up the decision (30-10).

 

Several highlight-reel defensive plays highlighted the game for Florida while the Gators connected for 13 hits on the night, as four players had double-digit hits and nine had at least one.

 

Florida put a runner on with two outs in each of first three innings for the Gators’ first three hits in the tilt before the Orange and Blue juiced the bags in the top of the third, started by a freshman center fielder Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) two-out bunt single. Junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) and Haeger found their way on base next courtesy of a walk and hit-by-pitch, respectively, for ducks on the pond. Tatum Edwards put an end to the threat, though, with her fifth strikeout of the evening.

 

A leadoff base hit from Taylor Edwards in the bottom of the fourth down the left-field line, followed by a one-out blooper to shallow center for Nebraska’s Courtney Breault had runners on the corners for the Huskers before a Hailey Decker sac fly plated Nebraska’s first run of the game. In the same stanza, Armstrong sent a RBI single to center for the 2-0 Huskers lead heading to the fifth.

 

The Gators fought back in the top of the fifth, first using a freshman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) one-out single up the middle, followed by a Merritt walk to set up a Tofft RBI bouncer through the left side that narrowed the Nebraska lead, 2-1. A fielder’s choice for Haeger juiced the bags for senior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.), who sent a soft grounder to third that allowed Merritt to speed home safely with the game-tying run and a 2-2 ballgame.

 

Fuller next bounced a ball to the Nebraska shortstop who committed a costly overthrow to second that plated both Tofft and senior pinch runner Ensley Gammel (Bakersfield, Calif.) for the 4-2 lead. A Little bases-loaded fielder’s choice pushed UF’s fifth run of the inning across home and sophomore Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) pinch hit single through the left side capped off the Gators’ monster six-run frame for the 6-2 lead.

 

A solo homer for Decker in the bottom of the sixth cut UF’s lead, 6-3, and Nebraska strung together a thrilling three-run seventh inning in the home half of the stanza to send the game to extras. A Taylor Edwards RBI single up the middle made it a 6-4 ballgame before a Brooke Thomason bases-loaded sac fly plated a fifth run for the Huskers for the second out. On the same play, Nebraska’s other two base runners advanced to third and home, respectively, but not before a rundown from freshman catcher Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) to Stewart to Tofft at third. Banda was able to cross home from third on the play after Tofft got tripped up in the rundown from third to home for the game-tying run.

 

For the eighth time this season, the Orange and Blue entered extras with the game at 6-6, led by Haeger’s charge in the circle. The bombs from each squad in the 10th resulted in a 7-7 standstill.

 

It took four more scoreless innings before the Gators capitalized on the Huskers’ fifth error of the contest when a Fuller stepped up and made rocket contact with a pitch right at Armstrong at shortstop, who was cuffed by a bounce. The ball caromed into the outfield, allowing both Haeger and sophomore Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) to score. Fuller was thrown out trying to stretch the play to third base.

 

Nebraska center fielder Jordan Bettiol brought the Huskers within two in the bottom of the 15th on a RBI ground out, but sophomore Jess Damico (Gray Summit, Mo.) halted any threat when Tatum Edwards tried to take third from first on a Banda single to shortstop, but Damico gunned to Tofft at third for the final out of the game.

 

Florida is now 12-10 (.545) all-time in the WCWS and moved to 6-2 (.750) in extra-innings contests this season. Florida’s come-from-behind after the Gators’ overcame a 2-0 deficit marked the 22nd for UF this season. The Orange and Blue own a 49-30 (.620) all-time record in the NCAA Tournament, including a 44-20 (.688) record under eighth year head coach Tim Walton.

 

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 are joined by Florida head coach, Tim Walton, and student‑athletes Briana Little, Hannah Rogers, Kelsey Stewart, and Stephanie Tofft.  We'll start with an opening comment from Coach and then questions.

                COACH WALTON:  Well, I just want to say congratulations to Nebraska for a great season and one heck of a ballgame.  If that wasn't one of the best, most exciting games of the College World Series, I don't know about ever.  But it was one of the most exciting games I think I've ever coached.  And I’m really proud of our team and the way they handled.  Just got punched in the gut in the seventh inning with two outs, but I thought we did a really good job of bouncing back and showing a lot of heart as did they.  They showed a lot of heart and will and determination and hit a home run.  We hit a home run back.  And that is the last thing I remember to be honest with you.  There were so many innings, I don't know exactly what happened after that.  But just proud of our whole team, the team effort again.  Lauren Haeger pitched her butt off for us and got a big hit.  And every one of these ladies up here and the rest of our team really showed me a lot of fight and will to win.

                Winning a game at the College World Series for any team is huge, but they showed me a ton today, and I'm really proud of the way we played today.

 

                Q.  I don't even know where to begin.  Let's go with Kirsti and Kelsey.  Just talk about the fatigue factor of playing 60‑some pitches in five and a half hours.

                KIRSTI MERRITT:  For our pitchers, that's great.  They did such a good job.  We have practices for so many hours and this is what we prepare for.

                COACH WALTON:  Four hours.

                KIRSTI MERRITT:  Four hours, yeah.  I didn't know the exact number.  But our conditioning really prepared us, and we even actually run three miles, so we're really prepared.

                KELSEY STEWART:  Yeah, it was hard.  I'm not going to lie.  Our 6:00 a.m., everything we've done up until this point paid off with our mental toughness.  Coach kept telling us we're in better shape than them.  I felt like I was in ‘Coach Carter,’ you know?  I think the energy with my team and knowing I couldn't give up on my team really helped me the whole time.

 

                Q.  About two hours ago, Stephanie, you were running down somebody at the third baseline.  Can you talk about that play?  Obviously, it didn't work out, but how deflating that had to be at that point?

                STEPHANIE TOFFT:  Definitely very deflating, it was very frustrating.  It just kind of popped out of my glove.  I felt like I let the whole team down, but they came right back behind me and picked me back up.  They fought through the whole game and really what should have been over in seven innings was over in 15.

                I kind of caused the whole extra innings, but my team had my back the whole time and I just really felt the love.

 

                Q.  Hannah, you started the game, at I guess at 6:00 o'clock, and then you saved the game at 11:25.  What about siting there in the dugout watching what was unfolding?  What were you seeing?

                HANNAH ROGERS:  I was seeing a lot of fight from our team.  No one ever gave up.  We all kept fighting.  Lauren was throwing an awesome game.  She did awesome for us.  She kept everyone up.  Everyone was picking each other up.  When everyone could have gotten tired, we all just kept fighting.

 

                Q.  I was going to ask, Briana, about your home run.  When you hit the home run, the dugout must have been jacked.  How deflating was it to have to go back out there again?

                BRIANA LITTLE:  I just went out there trying to do something for my team.  And then when ‑‑ sorry.  I knew we'd come out there and work our hardest to get back in there and getting ready to hit again, so I had faith in my team the whole time.

 

                Q.  Kelsey, could you talk about the two plays, the one outfield to home, to second to third and then of course the last play?

                KELSEY STEWART:  I don't feel like it was chaos, really.  Just because as a softball player at practice we always get the ball hit to us and we have to look for the next play.  So those were just the next plays.  I don't think it was chaos; it was just heads‑up for the next play.

 

                Q.  Stephanie, would you talk about the last play?  It looked like you were trying to block the bag.  Did you think you got her before that or she came off and you got her then?

                STEPHANIE TOFFT:  I don't think she touched the bag.  I think she got my whole knee and that's about it.

 

                Q.  What about the quick turnaround having to play in the next 12 hours?

                COACH WALTON:  I'm not going to worry about that.  I'm just going to let them have this moment.  We're conditioned.  Whether we're going to be any good tomorrow or not really doesn't matter.  I think what these guys showed me tonight, I'll take them to battle any day of the week.  I told this team from one of the first weekends of the season, I'd win or lose with this kind of team any day of the week.  The way they play and how much they care.  Stephanie Tofft comes in the dugout just completely demoralized with tears in her eyes and feels that.  For her to go out there and sacrifice her body with a cleat in her leg to get back on the W side of things, I just give her a lot of credit for that will and determination.

 

                Q.  Coach, just try to put the game itself into words if that's even possible.  Have you ever part of a game quite like that?

                COACH WALTON:  Well, right before the game as you're preparing your team for the game, I looked at all the statistics, and I looked at the fielding percentages and you look at the batting averages, and you have two really evenly matched teams.  I think both teams are coached the same way.  Coach Revelle, who I have a lot of respect for and I've known her forever, she's kind of enough to be on my resume a long time ago.  I always admired the way she coached her team until the end.  She did it all the way to the end again.  Her team reflects just how hard she competes and how hard they compete.  I think, again, my team's the same way.  They understand how to compete and go hard.  Both teams laid it all on the line.

 

                Q.  You guys got punched in the seventh inning with two outs.  What was the mentality in the dugout after that?

                KELSEY STEWART:  Punched in the gut.  Yeah, it sucked.  We're up by three runs and then 7‑3.  There is no blame on anybody.  It's just like the game.  So after that it was like here we go.  Fighting again.  So it's really just fighting the whole time.  No one ever gave up.  I never saw ‑‑ I mean, when someone was getting tired, there was someone picking them up.  It was really the fight in my team.  I never had a doubt in my mind that we wouldn't come out on top.

 

                Q.  Katie Medina's catch, did that bring up the energy level perhaps when maybe things were starting to slip away on that play itself?  Because it seemed like the team really moved.

                COACH WALTON:  I think the team for a couple of reasons was ‑‑ obviously, the timing of it.  But that's not a play Katie Medina can make a month ago, and we worked really hard on increasing her range and making that play in practice.  Coach (Kenny) Gajewski, twice a week, works on that kind of play.  Just three weeks ago we were talking about how we were going to be able to defend that.  She just, gosh, laid parallel to the ground, caught the ball.  Showed the ball to the umpire, too.  I saw that.  I was fired up for her.  But just again, how hard we work on those kind of plays and she came through.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush and something that we needed.  I'm just proud of her effort.

 

                Q.  Kirsti, can you talk about the play in centerfield where they said you didn't catch it?  And Hannah, can you talk about the last play and the helpless feeling of seeing the ball bouncing in the outfield with the game on the line?

                KIRSTI MERRITT:  When I was in the moment I was like, I caught that ball, I caught the ball.  But then when they showed the replay, I didn't catch it.  So I guess it didn't go my way.  But either way, it depends.  If the umpire doesn't see it hit the ground, I guess, it's going to be a phenomenal play.  It didn't go our way.  But there is nothing I could have done about it.  I did all I could do.

                HANNAH ROGERS: I saw Katie running after the ball hard, and I just knew that our team sets up, like they said earlier, at practice, we always know where the next play is.  At practice, we're always working on and we need to finish up every play.  I knew that Katie was going to know where to go with it.  I mean, I know Stephanie's always giving her body up for us, so I just knew that they were going to make something happen.

 

                Q.  Coach, as it gets to the 14, 15th inning, is your job more about motivation at that point or are you still tweaking X's and O's so to speak?

                COACH WALTON:  We did a few things.  Obviously, we bunted with one out in one situation, we bunted and we sacrificed Katie and got a nice bunt for us later.  We were going on the down angle there with Lauren Haeger if their infield was playing back.  I think the shortstop kind of peeked a little bit to see if Lauren was going and then the ball ricocheted in the outfield.  So we were trying to be maybe a little more aggressive.  Maybe you can call it conservative.

                But I was pushing the envelope a little bit and trying to put a little pressure on them.  But I don't know that I changed because of the innings.  I think it more had to do with the personnel at the plate and where we were at and what was going on, to be honest with you.  That's how I felt anyway.

 

 

 

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