Clutch walk-off homer sends Florida softball to 2018 Women’s College World Series

By Adam Silverstein
May 26, 2018
Clutch walk-off homer sends Florida softball to 2018 Women’s College World Series
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In one of the most clutch plays in the history of Florida Gators athletics, freshman designated player Jordan Matthews sent No. 2 Florida softball (56-8) to the 2018 Women’s College World Series on Saturday by jacking a three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh with two outs against the No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies (44-18).

Matthews, who entered the day batting .264 with four homers in 177 plate appearances, was the Gators’ best hitter in Game 3 of the 2018 Gainesville Super Regional, going 3-for-4 with the homer, three RBI and two runs on the afternoon. Her walk-off dinger to claim the 5-3 win came just one frame after Florida saw its lead disappear on the back of a similar two-run homer jacked by Texas A&M first baseman Tori Vidales with two outs in the top of the seventh.

“I can’t teach that stuff,” head coach Tim Walton said after the game. “That’s one of those ‘holy shit’ moments.”

Florida has advanced to the WCWS for the second straight year and ninth time in the last 11 seasons dating back to 2008. The Gators also improved to 8-0 all-time in Super Regional play when victorious in Game 1.

It was a rough week for Florida, which struggled in all three games against Texas A&M and never had a comfortable lead over the course of 21 innings at Pressly Softball Stadium. Even Saturday, when the Gators took a 2-0 lead thanks to RBI singles from freshman second baseman Hannah Adams (2/3, RBI) and senior catcher Janell Wheaton over the middle frames, it was clear that the Aggies would not go down quietly.

Florida junior right-handed pitcher Kelly Barnhill struggled in both of her appearances but particularly on Saturday, allowing Texas A&M to spray hits across the field throughout the entire game. Walton pulled Barnhill (5.0 IP, 8 H, ER, BB, 2 K) in the top of the sixth after she loaded the bases with no outs, and senior RHP Aleshia Ocasio did a fine job in that frame registering consecutive strikeouts with a run only crossing the plate due to a passed ball on a checked swing.

Ocasio looked like a transformed hurler in the top of the seventh after turning in her worst performance of the season (nine hits, five runs) in a Game 2 loss on Friday. She opened the frame with two more quick strikeouts, but a single followed before Vidales uncorked the two-run bomb, her second homer off Ocasio (2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 K) in as many days.

It looked dire for the Gators, but senior first baseman Amanda Lorenz (0/1, 2 R, 3 BB) opened the following frame with a walk, and Florida soon had two on with one out. Wheaton (2/3, RBI, BB, K), who tagged Texas A&M hurler Trinity Harrington all afternoon, fell victim to a strikeout looking, putting the game in the freshman’s hand. Matthews (3/4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, K) obviously came through in the clutch.

UF improved to 44-2 when Lorenz scores, which she did twice on Saturday; its Game 2 loss was one of those rare occurrences where Lorenz did not cross the plate.

The victory was also Florida’s 11th come-from-behind win this season and second in the last three days after the Gators won Game 1 of the Super Regional in similar fashion via back-to-back two-out bases-loaded walks in the bottom of the seventh.

Florida moves on to the WCWS in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, looking to win its first national championship since capturing back-to-back titles in 2014-15.

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