Florida women’s basketball was facing elimination from the 2013 Women’s NIT while Gators softball was about to fall to a heated rival when a late-game swish of the net and an extra-inning crack of the bat turned the fortunes of the respective teams in a pair of nail-biter situations Wednesday evening.
Though Florida women’s basketball did not receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the Gators have been fighting for their lives on the road. After taking down Florida International 75-68 in first-round action last Thursday, UF earned a dominant 85-53 victory over Winthrop on Monday to advance to the WNIT round of 16.
On Wednesday, the Gators (21-14) took on the Charlotte 49ers (26-6) and were engaged in an absolute dogfight. Florida coughed up its lead with less than six minutes to play and found itself in a four-point hole with possession and 1:05 remaining.
Just 13 seconds into the possession, freshman guard January Miller drained a three-pointer with 52 seconds left to cut the Gators’ deficit to one. On the ensuing possession, freshman forward Christin Mercer swiped the ball from Charlotte’s Ny Hammonds and junior G Jaterra Bonds got fouled on a shot attempt.
At the line with a chance to go ahead by a point with 20 seconds remaining, Bonds made the first free throw but missed the second. Suddenly, senior F Jennifer George swooped in for the rebound and head coach Amanda Butler called a 30-second timeout with 15.6 seconds remaining.
Coming out of the timeout, the ball went to Bonds, who spun inside and pulled up for a short jumper with three seconds left to put Florida ahead 67-65 and send the Gators on to the round of eight. She finished with a team-high 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting.
The victory was extra-sweet for Butler, a former head coach of the 49ers. Charlotte also knocked Florida out in the third-round of the 2011 WNIT. This year, UF gets to move on quarterfinal action on Saturday at 4 p.m. against James Madison.
Just over 450 miles away at home in Gainesville, FL, No. 3 Gators softball was one out away from seeing their impressive and brag-worthy nine-game winning streak against the in-state rival Florida State Seminoles come to an end.
Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh with two outs, Florida began mounting its improbable comeback. Consecutive walks to sophomore designated player Lauren Haeger (on four-straight pitches) and sophomore outfielder Brianna Little put runners on first and second before senior Kelsey Horton reentered the game to hit.
At the plate with a full count, Horton swung in desperation and smacked the ball over to the Florida State third baseman, whose subsequent throw sailed over the first baseman’s head. Horton advanced on the untimely throwing error as Haeger and Little came around to score a pair of unearned runs that tied the game up at 3-3.
The Gators then loaded the bases but were unable to take further advantage with another run in the frame. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers kept the Seminoles at bay in the top of the eighth and gave her team another chance to pull off the come-from-behind victory.
The Pressly Softball Stadium record crowd of 2,443 fans gave Florida all the motivation it needed in the bottom of the eighth. The Gators loaded the bases on a double, hit-by-pitch and intentional walk before Little returned to the plate with one out and her team needing a single run to pull off the walk-off victory.
Instead of batting in one run, Little responded to the pressure situation by picking up four for the Gators as she roped the ball over the scoreboard in left-center for a game-winning grand slam home run.
Rogers (18-2, 8.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R [2 ER], 3 BB, 8 K) picked up the unlikely victory as Little (1/3, HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) crossed home plate and the team celebrated with a dogpile.
Florida (32-3) extended its winning streak over FSU (26-11) to 10 games with the 7-3 victory, which marked its second-straight walk-off win and fifth overall in 2013.
Highlight/post-game video courtesy of GatorVision.tv.