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Junior Lauren Haeger connects on a sixth-inning grand slam in Saturday's NCAA play against Stetson.

Saturday May 17, 2014Gators 22, Regional Foes 0 ... But Work Still To Do

Junior Lauren Haeger connects on a sixth-inning grand slam in Saturday's NCAA play against Stetson.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are two ways to look at the manner in which fifth-seeded and host Florida dispatched of its first two opponents in the NCAA Tournament.

In smashing undermanned Florida A&M on Friday and Stetson on Saturday at Pressly Stadium, the Gators totaled 22 runs, collected 24 hits, including a trio of home runs, and had both their starting pitchers throw mercy-rule shutouts, with freshman Delanie Gourley hurling a no-hitter.

Clearly, the teams dispatched to the Gainesville regional -- throw UCF into that mix, as well -- aren’t the caliber of the opponents the Gators butted heads with during a brutal Southeastern Conference slate the last two and a half months. Everybody knew that coming in.

But Florida coach Tim Walton looked at the bigger picture in assessing his team’s play following Saturday’s 14-0 rout of Stetson in six innings -- a win that came just 20 hours after the making five-inning work in an 8-0 dusting of FAMU -- that advanced the Gators (47-11) into Sunday’s championship bracket, where either UCF or Stetson must win twice to keep UF from moving to Super Regional play next weekend. 

“How many singles have we had? How many balls have we gone the other way [with]? How many two-out, two-strike hits have we got?” asked Walton rhetorically after watching his team ring up the most lopsided NCAA win in program history. “We’re doing the little things that win you games this time of year.”

And then some.

By jumping on Hatters starter Meredith Owens for a run in each of the first two innings, then four big ones in the third, the Gators staked ace pitcher and senior Hannah Rogers to a fat 6-0 lead and let her mow away from another complete game. Rogers not only improved to 24-8 on the season, but rung up a fourth career shutout and padded her career wins to 121, the most of any active player in Division I softball.

"I think my team got a little rattled," Stetson coach Frank Griffin said. "We haven't had anyone jump on them like that."

The night before, Gourley had a 6-0 lead after the first inning.

In both games, the Rattlers and Hatters didn’t do themselves any favors with first-inning errors that got the Gators going. Consider that the "rattling" Griffin referenced. For Walton, he compared taking the big and early leads to putting up a “picket fence.”

For the Hatters (39-13), though, it had to feel like a 30-foot wall -- and that was before Lauren Haeger blasted a grand slam during a seven-run UF sixth. When the damage was done, Florida had 17 hits and all 14 Gators who stepped into the batters box reached base at least once.

“The swings change, the runs change,” Walton said of playing with the lead. “It think we’ve got a good, well-conditioned team. We’ve got a good amount of athleticism. I think being able to capitalize on a couple mistakes, and like hitting the other way, putting the ball were you need to, getting a bunt down -- the little things -- that’s what I like.”

Sure makes the girls in the circle feeling pretty good, too.

“You can see the energy," Rogers said.

Especially on the scoreboard.

Not that a couple easy wins means a thing going into Sunday. They just mean the Gators are in the most advantageous spot in the field -- they have to lose twice -- and will have the home crowd backing them up.

“It’s a new game,” said sophomore second baseman Kelsey Stewart, who had two hits, including a triple, and three RBI Saturday. “We just have to refocus and get ready for the next game.”

If they start the next one of this weekend like the first two of this weekend there will be more softball in Gainesville next weekend.

With much higher stakes.

 

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