LEXINGTON, Ky. – Florida softball freshman centerfielder Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) went a career tying 3-for-4 with five RBI to help lead the top-seeded Gator softball squad to an 8-4 victory over Alabama Thursday in the quarterfinals of the 2013 SEC Tournament at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington.
Florida became the first team in the country to 50 wins with the victory, as the Gators are now 50-7 overall on the year. UF advances to the conference tournament semifinals and will face Georgia for a fourth time this season, as the Bulldogs just defeated LSU, 7-0, in the second game of the day.
FLORIDA | GEORGIA SERIES HISTORY
Florida leads, 32-22
Gators at HOME: 15-13 | AWAY: 15-7 | Neutral: 2-2
Last meeting: April 26-28 (Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.)
Game One: Georgia 3, Florida 2 | Game Two: Florida 5, Georgia 2 | Game Three: Florida 5, Georgia 0
First pitch for both SEC Tournament Semifinal games have been altered due to the potential for inclement weather in Lexington. Florida and Georgia will square off at 1 p.m. (ET), while the winners of Missouri/Arkansas and Tennessee/South Carolina will take to the field at 3:30 p.m. (ET).
UF’s semifinal contest will air live on ESPNU, as ESPN’s softball crew of Beth Mowins, Holly Rowe, Michele Smith, Jessica Mendoza and Cara Capuano will handle coverage through the duration of the tournament.
Gator fans can also keep track of all Florida’s games live locally and online on the radio at 105 The Game, with Adam Schick and Megan Bush on the call. For all broadcast information throughout the week, stay posted to UF’s schedule page on GatorZone.com.
With a tie game heading into the bottom of the sixth after the Gators and Crimson Tide each put up four runs – Florida with a run in the first and three in the fourth and Alabama a four-run fifth inning – Merritt drilled her fifth homer of the season off the left-field foul pole for the eventual game-winner, her sixth of the season.
In addition to Merritt’s stellar day, freshman leadoff and second baseman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) took sole possession of UF’s single-season stolen bases record, swiping second in the fourth inning after a RBI infield single. Stewart was 2-for-4 on the day with one RBI to aid UF’s winning efforts.
Sophomore Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.) drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the first to start things off for the Gators with a 1-0 lead early. With one down, Merritt reached on a Bama fielding error before junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) reached on an infield single smoked to third base. Sophomore Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) drew her team-leading 38th walk of the season to juice the bags for Little’s RBI walk.
The Orange and Blue then put up a three-spot in the bottom of the fourth to increase the Florida lead, 4-0, started by a Stewart RBI liner to third base before Merritt connected with her second hit of the day, a two-RBI single up the middle for the four-run Gator advantage.
Alabama then responded in the top of the fifth with four runs, first loading the bases with four straight hits to start the inning, the fourth of which plated the Tide’s first run of the afternoon. A ground out plated a second run for Alabama in the top of the inning and the Tide added two more on a wild pitch and Molly Fichtner RBI single for a tie ballgame after five.
Merritt continued a career-best day with a game-winning three-run blast in the bottom of the sixth, as the Gators put up a four spot to go ahead for good. Sophomore Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) drew a leadoff walk, before a Stewart bunt single and error put runners on second and third with no outs for Merritt’s game-winning heroics, as the first-year Freshman All-SEC pick went yard to knock in her third, fourth and fifth RBI of the day.
UF added an insurance run on a Little foul out that allowed an eighth Gator run to score.
Junior ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) (5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) earned the start for the Gators in the circle and tossed the first five innings before Haeger came on with the game tied 4-4 to pick up the win. Haeger (2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 K) improved to 14-2, her fourth win over a top-25 opponent this season.
Florida is now 20-23 (.465) all-time in the SEC Tournament and advanced to the SEC Tournament Championship last season for the fifth time in program history. The Orange and Blue have played in the SEC Championship Game five times (1997, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012).
The Gators are 12-4 (.750) against top-25 opponents, tops in the SEC, own 17 come-from-behind wins – seven in SEC play – and are 5-2 (.714) in extra-inning games in 2013. Florida owns 18 shutouts, paced by junior ace Hannah Rogers’ (Lake Wales, Fla.) nine. Florida is 10-3 versus 1-25 RPI opponents, 13-3 against opponents ranked 26-50 in the RPI rankings and 16-1 against teams 50-100 in the most recent RPI standings.
Article courtesy of UF Communications