Florida softball wins six-straight to open season

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 3 Florida Gators opened up the 2014 season with a clean sweep of the USF Wilson-DeMarini Tournament in Tampa, FL, winning six games over four days including a thriller over a ranked opponent.

Florida (6-0) outscored its competitors 40-13 over the weekend as junior right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger, who was named Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week on Monday, shined by tossing her first-career no-hitter in the event’s penultimate matchup.

Starting off the season with a win for the eighth time in head coach Tim Walton’s nine-year tenure, the Gators topped the South Florida Bulls in their opening game. Senior RHP Hanna Rogers pitched seven innings, allowing three runs while recording six strikeouts. UF literally weathered the storm – a 25 minute rain delay – with its bats coming alive in the fourth inning.

Sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz led the way offensively with a bases-clearing three-RBI single in the fourth inning, which was part of a seven-run fourth for Florida. The Gators, which won 10-3, also benefited from some free passes. “We had 11 walks and five hit-by-pitches – that’s 16 free bases,” said Walton. “We had really solid plate discipline.”

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2014 Florida softball primer: Is this the year?

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Spring is here and No. 3/4 Florida Gators softball is set to kick off the 2014 season by playing six games in four days as part of the Wilson-Demarini Tournament in Tampa, FL.

The Gators open as the preseason favorite to with the Southeastern Conference title, according to the league’s coaches, receiving 10 of 13 first-place votes.

Florida hopes to improve successful 2013 season which saw it finish 58-9 on the year and advance as far as the semifinals of bracket play in the 2013 Women’s College World Series. While the Gators once again fell short in Oklahoma City, OK, they return the core of last year’s squad and possess the veteran leadership to make another deep postseason run, one which could result in program’s first-ever national title despite five WCWS appearances in the last six seasons.

KEY DEPARTURES

Outfielder Kelsey Horton: The 2012 Capital One All-American, Horton was a mainstay in the outfield for Florida, starting 65 games while also serving as a team captain. She was a steady offensive presence in the middle of the lineup, finishing the 2013 season batting .262 (slugging .524) with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. While Horton’s ability to impact the team on the field will be missed, her presence in the locker room and dugout might be the greatest loss for the Gators.

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No. 4 Texas blanks No. 2 Florida 3-0, eliminating Gators from Women’s College World Series

Forced to take the field less than 13 hours after last leaving it, No. 2 Florida Gators softball simply could not make contact with the ball, only registering one hit and striking out 14 times as the No. 4 Texas Longhorns picked up a 3-0 win in Sunday’s Women’s College World Series elimination game.

Florida (58-9) got most of its base runners on walks and hit batters as Texas (50-9) ace Blaire Luna kept the Gators at bay with her great command and terrific riseball, shutting out UF for the first and only time this season.

After getting a lead-off batter on board and in scoring position for the third-straight inning, the Longhorns finally delivered in the top of the third. With one down and runners on first and second, Kim Bruins lifted a ball just over the left field fence and off the outstretched glove of Gators sophomore left fielder Brianna Little for a three-run homer that provided Texas an early 3-0 advantage.

Florida responded by loading the bases in the bottom frame on a walk and two batters being hit by pitches, but sophomore designated player Lauren Haeger stranded all three of her teammates by striking out on a full count to end the inning.

Luna no-hit the Gators for 3.1 innings until freshman catcher Taylore Fuller finally smacked a single down the left field line. Florida wound up with two down and runners on first and second but left the inning without plating a run as sophomore pinch hitter Bailey Castro registered UF’s ninth strikeout in the first four innings.

Junior right-hander Hannah Rogers (7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) allowed too many lead-off batters on but only struggled mightily in the top of the third. Luna (7.0 IP, 1 H, 5 BB, 14 K) simply out-pitched her as the Gators swung at too many pitches outside and off the plate. UF struck out 39 times during 29 innings of WCWS play (three games), an average of 1.34 times per inning.

Florida concludes the 2013 season by exceeding everyone’s expectations. The Gators swept the Southeastern Conference Championships (regular-season, tournament) and were ranked as a top-five team in the nation over their final 62 games of the 2013 campaign. UF advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th-straight season and moved on to the WCWS for the fifth time in the last six years.

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No. 2 Florida softball eliminates No. 14 Nebraska from WCWS with 9-8 win in 15-inning thriller

The fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College World Series ended in celebration for No. 2 Florida Gators softball, which needed 15 innings and more than five hours to prevail 9-8 and eliminate the No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers from the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Florida (58-8) lost two separate leads on Saturday before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th, exactly the number it needed to take down Nebraska (45-16) and continue its storybook season.

The Gators flashed offense by loading the bases in the third but did not score until the fifth, when UF posted all six of the runs it plated during regulation. An incredible bottom of the seventh kept the Cornhuskers in the game, and a run by each team in the 10th inning extended Saturday’s contest even further.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (8.0 IP, 11 H, 7 R [6 ER], 3 BB, K) – two days after lasting less than an inning in Florida’s WCWS opener – showed a renewed focus for the first six innings but unraveled in the final frame of regulation. She returned in the 15th and gave up another run but held on for the save. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (7.0 IP, 3 H, ER, 4 BB, 4 K) was terrific in innings 8-14, keeping the Gators in the contest and picking up the victory.

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Tennessee blasts Florida 9-2 in WCWS opener

No. 2 Florida Gators softball (57-8) is now one loss away from elimination in the Women’s College World Series portion of the 2013 NCAA Tournament after the No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers (50-10) took it to the home team early and often, pulling away for a dominant 9-2 victory in Thursday’s opening-round game.

Florida, which edged Tennessee two games to one during a regular-season series that consisted of three-straight extra-inning affairs, struggled with its pitching in the early going and was never able to recover.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers got the start for the Gators but immediately loaded the bases as she had trouble finding the strike zone. Rogers (0.1 IP, H, 3 ER, 3 BB) walked two and gave up a single to load the bases before walking home the Volunteers’ first run of the game and putting her team in a 1-0 hole.

Florida head coach Tim Walton pulled Rogers for sophomore Lauren Haeger, who gave up a two-run double to Melissa Brown that fronted Tennessee a 3-0 lead.

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Two-run seventh pushes Florida past UAB

No. 2 Florida Gators softball blew two opportunities to put Saturday’s showdown with the UAB Blazers away but came up clutch when it mattered the most, registering two runs in the bottom of the seventh to walk off with a 4-3 win in the first game of the Gainesville Super Regional at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida had the bases juiced with no outs in the bottom of the sixth but failed to plate a runner, leaving the game tied 2-2. In the top of the seventh, the Gators dropped a routine pop out that would have ended the frame; shortly thereafter, the Blazers put the go-ahead run on the board, taking a one-run lead heading into the final frame.

Trailing 3-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, Florida quickly loaded the bases again without coughing up an out as sophomore designated player Lauren Haeger (1/3, R, BB) and senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (0/2, RBI, R, BB) drew walks and freshman first baseman Taylor Schwarz (0/3) was hit by a pitch. Sophomore left fielder Brianna Little (1/1, RBI, 2 BB) was then plunked in the thigh by UAB hurler Leigh Streetman, tying the game at 3-3 with the bases still loaded for the Gators.

Freshman catcher Taylore Fuller (1/4) struck out looking, putting Florida’s first out on the board, but sophomore shortstop Katie Medina (1/3, RBI) erased concerns about wasting a bases-loaded opportunity for the second-straight inning by smacking a walk-off RBI single to left that pushed the Gators ahead of the Blazers for good.

Florida came back from three separate one-run deficits on Saturday, tying the game in the third and fifth innings before pulling away in the final frame. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (32-5, 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R [2 ER], 4 BB, 4 K) was not her best but nevertheless got the job done for the Gators in a complete game outing.

Gainesville Super Regional action will continue on Sunday as Florida (56-7) and UAB (40-18) return to the field at noon for a game set to air nationally on ESPN. Should a third game in the best-of-three series be necessary, it would begin around 3 p.m. on Sunday and also be shown live on ESPN.

One win Sunday would send the Gators back to the Women’s College World Series for the fifth time in school history (all in the last six seasons).

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Florida Gators softball (3-0) wins Gainesville Regional, advances to Super Regional play

No. 2 Florida Gators softball on Sunday advanced to Super Regional play for the sixth time in the last seven seasons after defeating the South Florida Bulls 2-0 in the finals of the Gainesville Regional round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Despite serving as hosts for the regionals, Florida was the road team in Sunday’s final game. The Gators (55-7) went hitless for 6.1 innings at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL, but made Bulls pitcher Sara Nevins work hard in the fourth inning. Florida scored two runs on four walks and a hit by pitch.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (7.0 IP, 3 H, 5 K) earned the victory, her second of the weekend against USF, by tossing a complete game shutout on Sunday. Rogers (5.0 IP, H, R, 4 BB, 6 K) also helped UF pick up a dominant 11-1 win on Saturday in a five-inning run-ruled affair.

Sophomore designated player Lauren Haeger (2/2, HR, 7 RBI, R) led the way for the Gators on Saturday, tying the school’s single-game RBI record in the process.

Sophomore righty Alyssa Bache (7.0 IP, 2 H, R, BB, 4 K) took the mound for Friday’s regional opener against the Hampton Pirates and looked strong despite giving up a run in the top of the first. She had plenty of support from Florida’s hitters with Haeger (2/3, 2 RBI, BB) and senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R) each plating two runs. The Gators easily won 7-1.

As the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, Florida the will host UAB in the best-of-three Super Regional in Gainesville beginning on May 23. The Gators return to Super Regional action for the first time since 2011 after being upset during the 2012 Gainesville Regional by the Bulls.

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One night, two late game-winners for Gators

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.

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