Special to GC
Baton Rouge, La. – The No. 2-ranked University of Florida softball team defeated South Carolina, 10-1, on Thursday at Tiger Park in a quarterfinal matchup in the SEC Tournament. The Gators had six singles and three extra-base hits, and benefited from two Gamecock errors. Senior right-hander Lauren Haeger improved to 24-0 with four shutout innings, while freshman Aleshia Ocasio worked the fifth to seal the victory.
South Carolina was retired in the first before a lengthy rain delay. Florida jumped out to a 3-0 lead when play resumed as the Gators manufactured three runs on just one hit in the bottom of the inning. Kelsey Stewart led off with triple to right. Nicole DeWitt was hit by a pitch and Kirsti Merritt walked to load the bases for Haeger. The SEC Pitcher of the Year reached on an error as Stewart scored, and then Bailey Castro drew a bases-loaded walk to bring home DeWitt. Janell Wheaton completed the scoring in the inning with a sacrifice fly to center that brought in Merritt.
The Orange and Blue extended their advantage to five in the second on Merritt’s run-scoring bunt single that plated Stewart and a double-steal that brought home DeWitt. Justine McLean beat out a one-out infield single in the third, advancing on hits by Stewart and DeWitt and then scoring on Merritt’s sac fly.
Castro walked to lead off the fourth for Florida. Pinch-runner Jessica Damico advanced to third on Taylor Schwarz’s pinch-hit double, and scored on Wheaton’s second sac fly. Kvistad followed her classmate with a deep fly to center that nearly left the field to bring in Schwarz for UF’s eighth run. McLean notched another infield hit with one out to set up a two-run home run for Stewart to center field that raised the Gator lead to 10-0.
The Gamecocks cut the margin to 10-1 with a solo home run to lead off the fifth, producing the final result in the UF win.
STARS OF THE GAME
- Kelsey Stewart: The SEC Player of the Year shined on the conference’s biggest stage, knocking four hits (including two for extra bases) and scoring three times.
- Lauren Haeger: The SEC Pitcher of the Year drove in a run to support her own cause, and worked four scoreless innings with just two hits allowed.
- Nicole DeWitt: Florida’s SEC All-Freshman outfielder had a hit and scored twice in her postseason debut.
- The Gators received the SEC championship trophy before the game after they won the regular-season titleon Sunday.
- Haeger’s 24-decision win streak to open the season is the second-longest such run in league history (Traina, UA – 26-0, 2012).
- The Orange and Blue now are 23-24 all-time in the SEC Tournament.
- Stewart’s triple to lead off the bottom of the first was the 25th of her career, extending her school record.
- The junior’s three-base hit was her ninth of the season, one shy of her own single-season Gator record (10, 2013).
- The Kansas native’s homer was her second of the year (last: 3/28 at Mississippi State).
- Stewart extended her career-best hit streak to 22 games.
- The 2014 All-American has all three of UF’s four-hit games this year (last: 4/24 vs. Texas A&M).
- Florida’s leadoff hitter posted her team-best fifth three-hit game this year (last: 4/26 vs. Texas A&M).
- DeWitt had her 12th multi-hit game; the SEC All-Freshman Team selection has nine such contests in 15 games dating back to April 8.
- Schwarz had her fourth two-base hit of the year (last: Feb. 22 vs. Mercer, Game 1).
- The game was delayed approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes after the top of the first inning due to lightning and rain.
Florida will face the LSU-Tennessee winner in the SEC Tournament semifinals on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET. ESPNU will televise the contest. Florida Sports Talk will have the radio broadcast with Adam Schick (play-by-play) and former Gator All-American Megan Bush (analysis) on the call. In addition, a live stats link will be available on theschedule page on GatorZone.com.