Special to GC
Gainesville, Fla. - The No. 1-ranked University of Florida softball team extended its winning streak to 13 games on Friday night as the Gators defeated No. 25 Texas A&M, 7-3, at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. UF rallied from a 2-1 fourth-inning deficit as Lauren Haeger tied a school record with her 22nd consecutive win to open the season. Florida manufactured a run in the first inning as Kirsti Merritt's bloop single to right scored Kelsey Stewart, who had led off with a double down the left-field line and then advanced on Nicole DeWitt's sacrifice bunt. Texas A&M took a 2-1 lead in the fourth with a two-run home run to left. The Gators answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Taylore Fuller led off with a single up the middle and advanced to third when Kathlyn Medina reached on an Aggie fielding error off a sacrifice bunt. Justine McLean's infield single loaded the bases before Stewart then beat out a hit to bring home Fuller and tie the game at two. DeWitt followed with a fielder's choice to plate Medina ahead of a double-steal that scored McLean. The Orange and Blue continued the scoring when Bailey Castro led off the fifth with a home run over the left-field scoreboard to raise their advantage to 5-2. Texas A&M cut the margin to two on a bases-loaded walk in the sixth. Stewart doubled to start the home half and DeWitt was hit by a pitch. The junior then scored from second on Merritt's sacrifice bunt, and the freshman came home on a two-out single to shortstop by Castro to produce the final margin in Florida's 7-3 win. STARS OF THE GAME * Kelsey Stewart: Florida's 2014 All-American recorded her second four-hit game of the season (also: 4/4 vs. South Carolina, Game 2). * Bailey Castro: The fourth-year Gator provided an insurance run with her fifth-inning home run, and collected a second RBI on a sixth-inning single. * Kirsti Merritt: The junior went 2-for-3 with two RBI and a stolen base. NOTABLES * The Gators notched their ninth come-from-behind win (last: 4/12 vs. Kentucky). * Florida scored in the first inning for the 26th time in 49 games. The Gators improved to 24-2 in such contests. * Merritt has an RBI in four consecutive home games dating back to April 12. * The junior's third-inning double was her first in nine games (last: 4/4 vs. South Carolina, Game 2). * The Lake Panasoffkee, Fla., native leads the team with four two-base hits in conference play. * Merritt logged her 12th multi-hit game and her 12th multi-RBI contest of the season. * Castro has hit five of the Gators' last 11 home runs dating back to April 3, and she missed all three games of the Kentucky series due to flu-like symptoms. * The senior's home run was her 13th of the season, extending her career high and drawing within one home of Haeger for the team lead. * The Pembroke Pines, Fla., native logged her 100th career RBI. * Stewart doubled twice, marking her third game this year with multiple two-baggers (last: 3/4 at Long Beach State). * The Kansas native extended her hitting streak to 16 games dating back to March 27; she is batting .542 (32x59, four doubles, three triples, one home run) during that stretch. * Medina's sacrifice bunt in the fourth was the 41st of her career, bringing her to within seven of Nicole Kreipl's school record. * Haeger matched Stephanie Brombacher for the best start to a season in Gator history. Brombacher all of her 22 decisions in 2009. * The right-hander is now 21-0 in her 21 starts. Her other win came in relief during the series opener against LSU on March 13. WALTON'S WORDS On Stewart's four-hit night: "She's our engine, and she does so many nice things for us. She gets us started, revved up and ready to go. She's not the finisher, but she's the engine. She does a great job for us." On the reason behind Castro's recent power surge: "I think it's confidence. I don't think there's much difference in the way she plays - she just has a lot more confidence. She's been able to show that when she plays every day, she's going to be consistent. She can't get a hit every game, but she still has some good at-bats. Tonight, she struck out in the first go-round, but the second at-bat she hit the ball well and got an RBI, with [another] much-needed RBI late too." On Saturday's Senior Day ceremonies: "It's going to be fun. I don't see it as a farewell. It's more a recognition of some players we have on our team - the seniors - who can all be proud of their legacy. Their class won a national championship and an SEC championship. They've taken our program to another level and helped make our program better. If you can do that as a class, you have a lot to be proud about." - Florida Head Coach Tim Walton FLORIDA PLAYER QUOTES Senior RHP/1B Lauren Haeger On running her record to 22-0: "If you just take it inning by inning and don't let them score, you usually win. I'm just lucky I have the run support that I did. My goal in every game is to just go in and not give up any runs. I literally don't think about [being 22-0] at all." On the team's communication on and off the field: "It's always awesome when you put in so much work and then it pays off on the field. That's just how we are here - we work hard. Coach Rocha is calling great games. We come in and discuss every inning -what felt good, what didn't, what did you throw. There's a lot of communication going on. There's great communication, great people around me." On reflecting on her career before Saturday's Senior Day: "Just to look back on all the memories I have with my friends, my best friends, my coaches, - [they're] my second family. It's been a great time. I don't see myself getting as mad as I used to when I get out, just because I'm trying to take it all in and not waste a moment with my best friends. This has really been the best four years of my life, and I'm thankful that I've gotten to share it with all these people." Junior 2B Kelsey Stewart On how she is improving her offense: "I've done a lot of drills, and Coach and I have worked on slowing my feet down and really just doing the little things. I wasn't trying to do too much. I was really just making sure my hands were loaded and I was simplifying my swing." On how it feels to win the first game of the series: "I think it just relaxes everybody on the team. Tomorrow, Aleshia [Ocasio] can come out, Delanie [Gourley] can come out, and they can be relaxed and just pitch the game knowing that if we lose, if we win, we can still bounce back and win the series." On the team's mentality for the rest of SEC play: "I don't really think that we see it as a [win] streak - I think it's just one game at a time. Just working through at-bats, winning every at-bat, winning every pitch and doing the little things for postseason." UP NEXT The Florida-Texas A&M series continues Saturday, when the Gators will honor their six seniors before Game 2 begins at 1 p.m. ET. The contest will air on SEC Network+ through participating TV providers only via WatchESPN with Larry Vettel and former Gator All-American Megan Bush (analysis) on the call. Florida Sports Talk<http://www.floridasportstalk.fm/> will have the radio broadcast with Adam Schick (play-by-play) and former Florida player Kelsey Horton (analysis) 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.