Florida Gators softball advances to WCWS Championship Series with 6-3 win over Baylor

Another solid performance from senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers led No. 5 seed Florida Gators softball (53-12) to a 6-3 victory over the No. 13 seed Baylor Bears (49-16) on Sunday, sending Florida to the Women’s College World Series Championship Series for the first time since 2011.

The Gators won three-straight WCWS games to earn the opportunity to play for the national title, outscoring their opponents 21-3 on the back of a trio of stellar performances from their ace in Rogers.

After stranding runners on base in each of the first two innings, Florida opened up its scoring in the third when sophomore center fielder Kirsti Merritt got on board with a walk, advanced to second on a groundout and scored as senior third baseman Stephanie Tofft smacked a stand-up double down to the wall in left-center.

Junior Brianna Little (2/3, 2 R) began the fourth with a stand-up triple on a grounder through the middle of the infield and scored on a squeeze bunt by sophomore catcher Aubree Munro (1/4, RBI), pushing the Gators ahead 2-0 midway through the contest.

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Florida softball sweeps Gainesville Regional; Gators set to host Super Regional

By Jordan McPherson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

No. 5 Florida Gators softball (48-11) is one step closer to making its sixth Women’s College World Series appearance in seven years after closing out a sweep of the Gainesville Regional with a victory on Sunday.

Breezing through its first two opponents at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, UF shut out the Central Florida Knights (43-18) in the regional final on Sunday, winning 7-0 and advancing to the Super Regional portion of the 2014 NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in an eight-year span.

Gators junior right-hander Lauren Haeger (7.0 IP, 5 H, 5 K) tossed a five-hit shutout in Sunday’s finale to pick up her 10th win of the season and drop her ERA to a team-best 1.57. After giving up back-to-back singles to open the bottom of the first, Haeger calmed down and retired the next 11 batters, only scatting five singles in the contest.

But her contribution to Florida’s win extended much further than the pitcher’s circle. Haeger (1/5, HR, 3 RBI, R) blasted her team-leading 19th home run of the season — a one out, two-run shot in the first inning — which was also her third homer in as many games during the Gainesville Regional.

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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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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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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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FOUR BITS: softball, tennis, baseball, basketball

1 » No. 4 Florida Gators softball (23-1) continued its stellar start to the 2013 season by upending the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (22-1) on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, AL. Florida handed Alabama its first loss of the season in the non-conference showdown (the game was scheduled outside of league play) by scoring six runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (11-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R [2 ER], 3 BB, 5 K) threw well but was victimized by a pair of untimely errors before leaving the contest. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (1.0 IP, 2 BB, 4 K) replaced her in relief and ensured that the Gators maintained the advantage they gained early in the top of the seventh. A two-RBI double by freshman pinch hitter Taylore Fuller (1/2, 2 RBI) put Florida ahead in the seventh. Haeger (2/3, RBI, R, BB), senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (2/4, RBI, R) and junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (2/4, RBI, R) each knocked in runs for the Gators.

2 » No. 5 Florida women’s tennis (8-2) bounced back from its tough loss on Sunday with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles (8-3) on Wednesday in Tallahassee, FL. The Gators debuted some new doubles pairings in the contest after struggling to win the doubles point in recent matches. The switch worked out for Florida on Wednesday as it took the doubles point before running through singles action as No. 11 junior Sofie Oyen earned a 6-0, 6-1 victory, No. 1 Lauren Embree picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win, and No. 53 junior Alex Cercone took her match 6-4, 6-3. UF improved to 53-1 all-time against FSU, according to the school.

3 » Gators baseball (7-7) has fought hard over the last four games to get its record back to .500 after losing six-straight games from Feb. 20 to March 1. In a home-and-home series against the Jacksonville Dolphins (4-9) on Tuesday and Wednesday, Florida came from behind twice to pick up a pair of victories. On Tuesday, the Gators trailed 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh but scored four runs over the final three innings to pick up the 8-5 victory in Jacksonville, FL. Back at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, Florida rallied to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth including a walk-off RBI single by sophomore PH Connor Mitchell (1/1, RBI) that brought home senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 R, BB), who was intentionally walked earlier in the wild frame. UF looks to extend its four-game winning streak this weekend when it hosts Indiana for a three-game series from Friday-Sunday.

4 » Nine-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-13) delivered in the first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament on Thursday, taking down the eight-seed Arkansas Razorbacks (18-12) to advance to the quarterfinals against one-seed Tennessee on Friday at noon. Florida pulled off the 64-59 victory by going on a game-ending 10-2 run to erase a three-point deficit late in the contest. Junior guard Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 17 points (12 in the second half) by hitting 10-of-12 free throws; she made just 3-of-10 field goals. Freshman G Sydney Moss also struggled from the field (3-of-11) but was just as solid from the line, draining 7-of-8 attempts to finish with 13 points.

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Florida Gators gymnastics gets revenge, lacrosse earns a big win, softball starts 2013 season 5-0

No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (5-1, 4-1 SEC) scored the second-highest total in program history on its way to defeating the defending national champion No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide (3-2, 3-2 SEC) on Friday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Florida took down Alabama 198.100-196.850, avenging the Crimson Tide’s 0.075-point victory over the Gators in the 2012 NCAA Super Six.

UF’s huge score was fueled by phenomenal all-around performances from freshman Bridget Sloan and senior Ashanée Dickerson. Sloan’s mark of 39.675 is second nationally only to a 39.700 from Florida sophomore Kytra Hunter, and Dickerson’s 39.650 was highlighted by a career-best 9.975 mark that won the floor exercise.

Sloan and junior Mackenzie Caquatto shared the uneven bars title with dueling 9.950s. Caquatto doubled up in event titles with a score of 9.925 to win balance beam.

These great feats for the Gators came on a night where Hunter, an All-American the nation’s top-ranked all-around performer, fell on both bars and beam. However, when the team needed her to come through in the final event, Hunter registered a 9.950 on floor to help her team to a huge win.

A total of 8,074 fans – the ninth-largest crowd in program history – filled the O’Dome and created an electric atmosphere for Florida throughout the night. Equally impressive was the Gators’ registering such a huge score with Hunter battling a stomach flu and junior All-American Alaina Johnson still sidelined with a stress reaction in her back.

Read about what Florida lacrosse and softball did over the weekend…
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