Florida Gators softball advances to SEC semifinals

Report on the Florida Gators softball team:

STARKVILLE, Miss. – The No. 1-ranked University of Florida (53-4) softball team shutout Ole Miss (39-20), 1-0, on Thursday evening at Nusz Park in a quarterfinal matchup at the SEC Tournament. The Gators scored the Thursday’s only run on a passed ball in the fifth inning. In the circle, freshman Kelly Barnhill combined with sophomore Aleshia Ocasio (20-1) to throw seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts.

Following Thursday’s shutout victory over the Rebels, Florida has not allowed a run in 24-straight innings and is just six frame’s shy of its season-long mark of 30-consecutive scoreless innings. In addition, the Gators are now error-free in 26-straight innings following Thursday’s contest.

After a pair of scoreless frames, Thursday’s SEC Tournament Quarterfinal matchup entered a three hour and 15 minute weather delay in the top of the third inning.

After play resumed, the game remained a scoreless affair until the fifth inning.

In the top of that stanza, Ole Miss threatened to score after Kylan Becker led off the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt.

With Becker on second base, UF Head Coach Tim Walton changed pitchers and brought Ocasio into the circle. After a walk and a wild pitch placed runners on first and third, Ocasio induced a 6-3 double play to get out of the inning without any damage.

Florida used that momentum in the bottom of the fifth as senior Kelsey Stewart ignited Florida’s offense to grab its 1-0 lead.

After the Wichita, Kan. native recorded a leadoff double and advanced to third on an Ole Miss miscue, the senior speedster scored on a passed ball with one out in the inning. That would be the only insurance Ocasio would need, as she retired the Rebels final six hitters to secure the victory.

Team Notes
The Gators received the SEC Championship trophy before the game after they won the regular-season title last Friday.
The Orange and Blue now are 24-25 all-time in the SEC Tournament.
Thursday’s game was broadcast on SEC Network. Florida is now 11-1 in contests that broadcast on national television.
Florida is now 33-0 this season against unranked opponents this season. UF improved to 19-0 in neutral site games this season.

Stat Watch
UF has now outscored its opponents this season, 351-60.
In 2015, UF had a plus-288 run differential (402-114) through 57 games.
In 2014, UF had a plus-265 run differential (390-125) through 57 games.
Florida’s 60 runs allowed through 57 games is the second fewest in school history through this point in any season.
UF’s 2009 squad allowed 44 tallies through 57 contests and Florida’s last two NCAA Championship teams had allowed more than 110 runs each, respectively.
The Gators have made just 25 errors this season and currently sport one of the best fielding percentages (.983) and earned run averages in the nation (0.88). For comparison, Florida set school records last season with a .981 fielding percentage and just 33 errors committed.
Florida’s astounding 0.88 team ERA (374.2 IP) would go down as the second-best ERA for a single season in program history if the season ended today.
Top ERA Season’s in UF History:
2008 – 0.92 ERA (512.0 IP)
2009 – 0.69 ERA (444.0 IP)
Florida’s miniscule .154 batting average against (374.2 IP) would go down as the best b/avg. for a single season in program history if the season ended today.
Top B/Avg. Season’s in UF History:
2008 – 0.176 b/avg. (512.0 IP)
2009 – 0.161 b/avg. (444.0 IP)
UF did not allow a stolen base on Thursday, remaining the only team in the SEC who has yet to allow more than four stolen bases in 2016.
Florida’s opponents have only attempted to steal 10 bases against Aubree Munro and Florida’s catchers this season. That mark would shatter Florida’s school record of 25 attempts that was set in 2015.
In addition, UF’s stolen-base-against percentage of 40% (4-10) this season would be the lowest in school history if the season ended today. Florida’s 2003 team currently holds that mark as they allowed just 51.7% (31-60) of runners to steal a base safely.
Florida recorded its 27th double play of the season in the fifth inning.
UF’s 2016 squad is just one double play away its program record 28 that it turned during the 2014 season.
Taylor Schwarz was involved in the double play, extending her UF record to 67 double plays turned in her career.

Pitching Notes
Florida’s pitching trio has combined to allow just 60 runs, while they have totaled 495 strikeouts. Both of those numbers lead the SEC.
Only two teams in Florida history have ever allowed less than 100 runs in a single season. UF’s 2009 squad allowed just 67 runs and its 2008 team allowed 94 tallies.
Florida’s 495 strikeouts currently ranks third all-time in program history for strikeouts in a single season.

Hitting Notes
Hitting Streaks:
Janell Wheaton – five games
Justine McLean – three games
Kelsey Stewart recorded her seventh double of the season and 49th of her career in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Coaches’ Corner
Head Coach Tim Walton:
On the SEC Tournament…
“Playing in this tournament, the goal is to come out and play well, stay healthy and work hard. Overall, I thought we did that tonight. I thought Kelly Barnhill did a nice job and pitched very well. She gave us a chance to win and Aleshia (Ocasio) did a great job in relief. Defensively, we were really sharp too. We were able to make all the plays necessary behind them to get the win tonight.”

On playing in tight games…
“We’ve been tested in so many different ways, settings and directions. It’s good to be tested in a situation where you lose and you’re done. I thought we were able to make the plays in the tight situations and we made some hard plays look easy. We did a good job. Although, we need to come in with a tough mindset, because our opponents have a mindset of coming after us and giving us their best shot. That’s one thing that we could do a better job of – we could bring a little bit more of a killer instinct and be ready to go right away.”

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Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.