Special report on the Florida Gators softball team:
AUBURN, Ala. – In a matchup of top-five squads, the No. 1-ranked University of Florida softball team defeated No. 3 Auburn, 6-3, on Saturday night in the first game of the Gators’ Southeastern Conference schedule. Tonight’s contest drew an AU season-high 2,059 fans.
The win marked Florida Head Coach Tim Walton’s 700th of his illustrious career.
With two outs, two runners on and the score tied at three runs apiece, sophomore Kayli Kvistad hit a go-ahead three-run home run to lift the Gators past the Tigers in the series opener.
Delanie Gourley worked the first five innings and allowed three runs (one earned) and totaled six strikeouts. Sophomore Aleshia Ocasio (8-0) relieved her in the sixth and did not allow a hit in two innings of work.
In the third, three of Florida’s five seniors gave UF its first three run lead of the game.
With two outs, Aubree Munro and Kelsey Stewart recorded back-to-back singles and Kirsti Merritt followed with her third home run of the season over the right field fence.
Undaunted, Auburn answered in the fourth when Carlee Wallace led off the inning with a double. After she was bunted over to third, Jenna Abbott got the Tigers on the board with a sac fly to left field.
A pair of Tiger singles in the sixth forced Walton to make the pitching change to Ocasio.
The sophomore walked Wallace to load the bases, but rebounded by getting Jade Rhodes to ground into a double play, which scored a run. AU’s Jenna Abbott drove in the tying run on an error by the Florida shortstop.
Stewart and Janell Wheaton singles placed runners on first and second, forcing Auburn to change pitchers. The Tigers brought in a left-hander, Rachel Walters, to create a lefty-lefty matchup with the newly reentered Kvistad.
The rest is history.
News & Notes
Florida’s 25-0 record is the second-best start to a season in school history. UF began the 2015 season 28-0.
UF has now outscored its opponents this season, 167-16.
A season ago, UF had a plus-177 run differential (203-26) through 25 games.
Florida’s 16 runs allowed through 25 games is the fewest in school history through this point in any season.
UF’s 2009 squad allowed 21 tallies through 25 contests and Florida’s last two NCAA Championship teams had allowed 34 (2014) and 26 (2015) runs, respectively.
The Gators have made just 10 errors this season and currently sport one of the best fielding percentages (.983) and earned run averages in the nation (0.60). For comparison, Florida had committed 18 errors in its first 25 contests and had a fielding percentage of .971. UF went on to record its best fielding percentage (.981) and commit just 33 errors, which were both school records
Florida’s senior class is now 198-28, which currently ranks ninth among four-year class records in program history.
Sitting eighth on this list UF’s 2008 graduating class that went 204-75 throughout its four seasons.
Taylore Fuller, Kirsti Merritt, Aubree Munro, Taylor Schwarz and Kelsey Stewart are trying to catch UF’s 2011 class which boasted a 238-33 mark during their four years.
Tim Walton won his 700th career game as a head coach tonight.
Florida’s head coach currently ranks 13th in softball history in winning percentage (.791) and fourth amongst active coaches.
In addition, Walton ranks 39th in wins in NCAA history and is the 39th coach in collegiate history to win at least 700 games in his career.
This is a matchup of the 2015 SEC regular season champs vs. the SEC tournament champs. Since softball’s inception in the SEC in 1997, this type of series has occurred eight times. The reigning tournament champs have won that series four times, the regular season champs have earned three series victories and UA and UT split a doubleheader in 2008.
Florida will look to become the fourth team to win this series tomorrow after being the SEC regular season champs a season ago.
Kayli Kvistad – five games (ties career long)
Justine McLean – four games (one shy of career long)
UF did not allow a stolen base on Saturday, remaining the only team in the SEC who has yet to allow more than one stolen base in 2016.
Florida has allowed just one home run in 2016, while the UF pitching staff had allowed six at this point last season.
Florida recorded its 13th double play of the season in the sixth inning of tonight’s game.
Kirsti Merritt hit the 31st home run of her career and third in as many games with her third inning blast.
The home run was her 11th career in SEC play.
Kayli Kvistad hit her fourth home run of the season and second in three games.
Her long ball was her second career in conference play.
Head Coach Tim Walton:
On the game overall…
“I thought both of our pitchers did a good job. To limit an offense like Auburn to five hits is really impressive. They did hit some balls hard, but we made some good pitches and some nice defensive plays too. Overall, the presence of this game was felt. Not only because of the great crowd, but there were two great teams playing against each other.”
On Kirsti Merritt’s homer run…
“She got a good pitch to hit. I thought she didn’t try to do too much. With two outs and two strikes it was a really big hit. Obviously you love to hit three run homers, but just to see the fight in some of our at bats was really good.”
On Kayli Kvistad…
“I feel like Kayli [Kvistad] has been swinging the bat very well. I felt confident in her swing even when she was down in the count 0-2 and with the crowd very loud. There was a great of a presence in the stadium tonight. Auburn had a lot of passionate fans there and I had not felt something like that in a long, long time. So in that situation for her to take that pitch the other way, and it was a bomb, I just have to give Kayli all the credit. I thought she did a good job by just keeping it simple.”
On 700 wins…
“Seven hundred is a lot of wins and each of them is something special. This has been better than a job. I have made great friendships and have some wonderful players that have bought in to what we are doing here, which is really special.”
On her home run…
“My favorite part about the home run was just that I did it for my teammates. We work really, really hard in practice and being able to keep the inning rolling with two outs was huge. When I got up to bat, I was just looking for a pitch to hit. I think it was really special for Coach Walton to get his 700th win. It was awesome!”
UF holds a 37-18 edge on AU in the two schools’ all-time series.
This weekend marks Florida’s first visit to Auburn, Ala. since 2013 when the Gators are 14-10 against the Tigers. Florida has not lost a series at Auburn since 2005.