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Tuesday April 8, 2003No. 20 Softball Splits With No. 17 Alabama

Gainesville, FL

The University of Florida softball team received the No. 20 ranking in the NFCA poll Tuesday to tie its highest ranking in school history. A short time later at Florida Softball Stadium, the Gators (32-12, 13-4 SEC) showed they deserved the recognition by splitting a double header with No. 17 Alabama.

Florida defeated the Crimson Tide 4-2 in the second game after dropping a 2-1 decision earlier in the evening.

The Gators, who tied a school-best NFCA ranking they held in 1998 and received a ranking (No. 21) in the USA Softball poll for the first time Tuesday, won their 32nd game to equal the teamís win total for the entire 2002 season.

Florida head coach Karen Johns, who coached at Alabama for five years prior to starting at Florida in 2001, said the win allowed the Gators to keep pace with the SEC-West leading Crimson Tide.

"Itís huge," Johns said. "It keeps us neck and neck with them. We went in at halftime and said, ĎListen. We are the better team, and we feel more confident this night.í

"We had to believe that this day we were the better team."

Junior Jenny Gladding hit a three-run home run and knocked in all four runs in the Gatorsí win. Gladding also earned the save by pitching 2.2 innings in relief of junior Amanda Moore (11-2), who started the game and earned the win.

Freshman Lindsey Cameron tripled for the Gators, and sophomore Ashlie Goble hit a double.

It took the Gators only one swing to erase a 1-0 Alabama lead when they stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. After sophomore Nikki Baldwin reached first base on an error and junior Mylin Prieto singled during the next at-bat off Jennifer Wright (8-5), Gladding smashed a three-run home run to right-center field to put Florida up 3-1.

It appeared that the Gators were not finished scoring in the inning following a four-pitch walk to Cameron and a two-out single to left by Garner two at-bats later. Both runners were left on base, however, when Goble grounded out to end the inning.

The Crimson Tide (33-14, 16-4 SEC) struck first by scoring one run to begin the game. A one-out single down the right field line by Jackie McClain scored Ashley Courtney, who led off the first with a single, from second base.

Cameron hit her stand-up triple with two outs in the third inning with the Gators up 3-1, but that was as far as she would get. Alabama prevented her from scoring when catcher Lacy Prejean caught Florida senior Jennifer Mossadeghi stealing second.

Florida was fortunate to escape the fifth inning up 3-2 after surrendering one run to the Crimson Tide.

Alabama put runners on first and third base with one out after singles by Jaclyn Wilkins and Angela Johnson. Gladding, who pitched a complete game only hours earlier, then was inserted for Moore to get the Gators out of the jam.

Gladding was aided in getting the first batter she faced out by the defense of Prieto at second base. She made a diving catch on a pop-up hit between the pitcherís circle and second base by Ashley Courtney.

Alabama did manage to score on the next at-bat when Wilkins scored from third after Florida freshman catcher Kristen Butler attempted to catch Johnson stealing second. After allowing a walk and an intentional walk to load the bases, Gladding ended the threat by striking out Stephani VanBrakle swinging.

The Gators made up for the run they allowed in the fifth by scoring a run in the bottom of the inning. Baldwin led of the inning with a single down the left field line and advanced to second on left fielderís Angela Johnsonís fielding error. Two at-bats later, Gladding scored Baldwin from third with a sacrifice fly to left field that put Florida up 4-2.

Alabama pitcher Stephani VanBrakle (9-4) pitched a complete game, struck out eight and allowed two hits in the Crimson Tideís 2-1 win to start the double header. Florida junior Jenilee Garner and senior Jackie Marchetta accounted for the Gatorsí two hits, both of which were singles.

Florida junior pitcher Jenny Gladding (16-7) pitched her team-high 14th complete game and struck out eight in taking the loss.

The Gators started out the fourth inning with two quick outs but struggled to end the inning. A two-out double to right-center field by Lacy Prejean began a two-run inning for Alabama and allowed it to take a lead that it held for the gameís duration.

Jennifer Reachís bloop single in the following at-bat went just over second baseman Mylin Prietoís head into center field to score Prejean and put Alabama up 1-0. A RBI double to right-center field in the next at-bat by Jaclyn Wilkins gave Alabama its second run.

The Gators responded in the fifth inning to trim Alabamaís lead to 2-1. Smart hitting and the crafty base running of Florida senior Jennifer Brown led the rally.

Brown, on first base pinch running after senior Jennifer Mossadeghiís lead-off walk, reached second base on freshman Kristen Butlerís sacrifice bunt. Two at-bats later, Brown stole third base and scored when the throw to third from second baseman Dominique Accetturo sailed wide.

The Gatorsí offense threatened in the bottom of the fourth inning with runners on second and third with two outs. Garnerís single and Gladdingís walk put Florida in position to break the scoreless game, but sophomore Mandy Schuermanís line drive to center field was caught by Wilkins to end the inning.

Prejean went 2-for-3 for Alabama.

The two teams will face off in the rubber match tomorrow at 5 p.m.


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