It was a special weekend for Florida Gators softball, which sent its seniors off with a two-day celebration concluding in the team’s fourth-straight Southeastern Conference East division title. The baseball team, on the other hand, fought through a three-game road series that left their chances at a regular season title up for grabs.
Just two days after a hard-fought 1-0 victory at home against Florida State, No. 4 Florida softball was just as scrappy against the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers on Friday, breaking a 3-3 tie with a solo home run from lead-off hitter freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1-2, HR, RBI, 2 R, BB) in the bottom of the seventh inning to earn a 4-3 victory. Senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher drew the start for the Gators but was pulled after giving up three earned runs and only striking out two batters in 4.2 innings. Florida was down 3-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth but rallied with two outs to tie the game. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers came on for the final 2.1 innings, striking out four and only allowing a single hit to earn the victory.
The Gators took advantage of the Volunteers early in Saturday’s game and held on to a two-run lead earned in the first frame to win the series with a 2-0 victory. With one out, senior second baseman Aja Paculba (2-3, R) singled to left field; senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (1-3, HR, 2 RBI, R) followed her by stepping up to the plate and smacking a homer to center field on a full count for the game’s only runs. Brombacher (3.1 IP, 2 K, 3 H) once again earned the start for Florida, but Rogers (3.2 IP, 4 K, 3 H) threw the second half of the contest to earn her second win over Tennessee. Saturday also marked the first half of UF softball’s Senior Day. Brombacher and catcher Tiffany DeFelice were honored prior to the game, which resulted in the team’s 24th shutout win on the year.
Putting everything together on Sunday, the Gators (47-8, 21-7 SEC) started hot out of the gate and routed the Volunteers (44-10, 20-8 SEC) 7-2 to conclude regular season action with nine-straight victories while simultaneously capturing the SEC East division title. Rogers (30-5) tossed a complete game, allowing single runs in the first and fifth innings on a total of five hits. Down 1-0 after the first three outs, Florida scored two runs in the bottom of the first and added another in the second. The Gators then poured on four runs in the fourth including a lead-off dinger from designated player Kelsey Horton (2-3, HR, RBI, R) on the first pitch she saw. Also performing well Sunday were junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2-4, 2 R), Paculba (2-3, RBI, 2 R, BB), Bruder (1-3, RBI, R, BB) and sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte (2-4, 2 RBI, R). Florida honored Bruder, Paculba and first baseman Megan Bush before the game as the second half of the school’s senior day festivities. The day ended with the Gators not only capturing their fourth-straight SEC East crown (fifth overall) but also having won 17 of their last 18 games.
With their regular season now complete, UF has earend the No. 2 overall seed in the 2011 SEC tournament, which they will begin on Thursday with a first-round game against No. 7-seed Auburn. The game will air live on ESPNU at 1:30 p.m.
No. 4 Florida baseball saw its dominant seven-game winning streak come to an end Thursday in Fayetteville, AR as they blew a 3-1 lead through six innings to fall 4-3 to the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks. After scattering hits through his first five innings, starter sophomore RHP Hudson Randall (8-2) allowed a triple and home run in back-to-back at-bats in the bottom of the sixth that let Arkansas tie the game at three runs apiece. Randall gave up his second homer of the game two innings later, and the Razorbacks escaped the first game of the series with a victory. Three Gators – junior right fielder Preston Tucker (2-4, RBI, R), senior 2B Josh Adams (2-3, R) and junior LF Daniel Pigott (2-2, RBI) – notched pairs of hits in the contest, but the team simply could not capitalize when it counted.
Florida fought from behind all night on Friday and eventually fell to Arkansas 5-3, dropping the road series after the first two games. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (7-2) lost his second game of the season after allowing three earned runs (four total) in just four innings of work. The Gators trailed from the first inning on, taking their only lead at 2-1 in the third before the Razorbacks scored three runs in the bottom of the inning to jump back ahead 4-2.
Florida (36-12, 18-6 SEC) got back to its winning ways on Saturday, rallying for three runs in the top of the seventh inning to slay Arkansas (32-15, 12-12 SEC) 5-3; it was the Gators’ first road win against the Razorbacks since 2005 (eight games). Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (5.2 IP, 6 K, 3 ER, 6 H) shut out Arkansas through the first four innings of the game and allowed Florida to take an early 2-0 lead. The Razorbacks would respond with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth, but sophomore RHP Austin Maddox came in to get the final out and stop the bleeding for the Gators. Florida responded with a fierce rally that scored three in the seventh. Three-straight singles ending with one from Tucker (1-4, RBI, R) scored sophomore SS Nolan Fontana (2-5, RBI, 2 R) from third to tie the game and another up the middle by Pigott (2-4, 2 RBI, R) allowed two more runs to cross the plate for the Gators. Maddox (2-0) tossed the final three innings, striking out one and walking one as Florida held on for the victory.
The Gators remain in the hunt for the SEC title but have two more series (on the road against Vanderbilt and at home against Kentucky) to play along with two non-conference games (home vs. North Florida and Jacksonville) before the regular season concludes. Vanderbilt leads the SEC with a 19-5 record, but Florida and South Carolina are both just a game back at 18-6.