Special to GC
Gainesville, Fla. - In a matchup of unbeaten squads, the No. 1-ranked University of Florida softball team defeated No. 3 LSU, 4-3, on Friday night in the first game of the Gators' Southeastern Conference schedule. The teams scored in bunches as Florida answered the Tigers' two-run third inning with three runs of its own and the Orange and Blue matched LSU's one seventh-inning run to seal the win. Lauren Haeger (12-0) got the win for pitching the final frame in relief of Aleshia Ocasio. LSU got on the board in the third inning when a pair of singles and a Florida throwing error led to two Tiger runs. The Gators (28-0, 1-0 SEC) loaded the bases with one out in the home half on a Kelsey Stewart single and two walks. Taylore Fuller was hit by a pitch to force in the infielder before Briana Little's infield single scored Kirsti Merritt. An LSU throwing error on the play allowed Haeger to come home, giving the Orange and Blue a 3-2 lead. Haeger replaced Ocasio in the circle for the seventh inning. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases for the Tigers (25-1, 0-1 SEC), and a two-out walk forced in a run to tie the game at three. After a clutch throw by Little cut down the would-be go-ahead run, Stewart led off the decisive home half with a single down the left-field line, advancing to second on Merritt's sacrifice bunt. A wild pitch moved the junior to third before the Wichita, Kan., native scored the winning run on a passed ball to secure the series-opening victory for Florida. STARS OF THE GAME * Briana Little: The senior beat out an RBI single on the infield the third to tie the game at two, and the resulting errant throw allowed the go-ahead run to score. The Middleburg, Fla., native also made a key defensive play in the top of the seventh, throwing out a potential fourth Tiger run from left at home plate to keep the score even at three runs apiece. * Aleshia Ocasio: In her first career Southeastern Conference start, the freshman right-hander allowed just two runs (one earned) on seven hits over six innings with three walks and seven strikeouts. * Kelsey Stewart: The 2014 All-American had two hits and also scored twice, including the winning run on the game's final play. NOTABLES * The Orange and Blue now have won 28 straight games to begin the season, extending their school record. * Six of the last seven UF-LSU games have been one-run contests. The Gators are 5-2 over that span, which dates back to 2012. * The contest was Florida's sixth of the season to be decided in the last at-bat, and UF's fourth walkoff win. * Florida now has won seven games this season in which the game-winning run scored on an error, wild pitch or illegal pitch. * With her third-inning single, Stewart extended her hitting streak to 14 games dating back to Game 2 of a doubleheader on Feb. 22. The string ties a career high for the junior (also: March 1-18, 2014). * Stewart had her team-best tenth multi-hit game of the season. * The junior has scored multiple runs six times this year, including four of the last seven games. * Little now has four RBI in her last five games after she had none in the previous five following her record-setting nine-RBI game in Game 1 of the Feb. 22 twinbill. * Bailey Castro's leadoff single in the second inning extended her hitting streak to five game since March 5, tying her career-best string (also: Feb. 8-14, 2014). * The senior also ran her career-best reached-base streak to 21 games since Feb. 14. * Friday's attendance of 1,865 marked the largest crowd at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium since March 21, 2014, when 2,036 fans witnessed a Florida-Alabama game. WALTON'S WORDS On Florida's perseverance to score the game-winning run in the seventh after LSU had tied the game: "The best word is 'tested.' When you're put in those situations, how are you going to respond? I thought [LSU] did a great job responding to being down by one on the road in the SEC. We responded with one [after] being tied. We beat a really good team today. Nobody in our dugout overlooked that fact." On Ocasio's performance in the circle during her first SEC start: "She pitched well. I told her the difference between her throwing a complete game today is the walks. When they got the fourth time through the lineup, it's a really tough situation to put her through. Overall, she pitched a really nice game." On the atmosphere and the fan support for the Gators: "They came out, and everybody went home with a 'W' tonight. I feel great about the way our crowd responded. The first pitch of the game, they were in it. The last pitch of the game, they were in it. It was good to be back home and get on the [winning] side again." - Florida Head Coach Tim Walton FLORIDA PLAYER QUOTES Senior OF Briana Little On her assist in the seventh inning that kept the game tied: "On that play I knew it was going to be a base hit, but I was coming up hard and I was going to get her out. But she was fast - I had to be on it." On knowing if the throw was going to make it to home: "I just focus on making a good throw and doing it quickly. I just relied on my arm and made it get there." On the advice Walton gave her before her third-inning single: "He just told me to stay in control and make sure I swing easy. Just make sure I relax and do what I do best." Freshman UT Aleshia Ocasio On her mentality going into a matchup of top-three teams: "LSU is a great team. Obviously we were both undefeated before tonight, so I think we just went out there and played our game. We battled all seven innings and came up with the win, so I thought it was a great game." On her performance tonight: "I didn't think I had my best stuff but I worked with what I had. My teammates were there behind me both offensively and defensively. I thought it was overall a good performance from the team." Junior 2B Kelsey Stewart On her baserunning strategy in the bottom of the seventh: "It was 'read and react.' Coach just told me to be ready for the pitch, because [LSU pitcher Bailey Corbello] is throwing wild today. I was just ready for it. I read it, and I reacted." On her approach at the plate during her final at-bat: "Just before, Coach had talked to me. [He said] 'Alright Kels, let's go.' The next at-bat I was just really trying to get a strike and get the ball on the ground to get on for my team." On her mindset going into the bottom of the seventh with the game tied: "I mean, it gave me a heart attack. I'm only 20, but I feel like I'm 40 right now!" UP NEXT The Florida-LSU series continues Saturday at 1 p.m. EDT. The contest will be televised on the SEC Network<http://www.gatorzone.com/listings/sec-network-faq> with Thad Anderson and Michele Smith on the call. WGGG (1230-AM)<http://www.floridasportstalk.fm/> will have the radio broadcast with Corey Brooks and Megan Bush as the announce team. In addition, a live stats link can be found on the schedule page<http://www.gatorzone.com/schedule.php?sport=softb> on GatorZone.com.