Florida falls to UGA 3-2

The Orange and Blue used a freshman Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) bases-loaded walk and a sophomore Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) sac fly for two runs in the seventh, but the No. 2/3 Gator softball squad fell short, 3-2, in the series-opener with the No. 23 Georgia Bulldogs Friday in front of a crowd of 1,492 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Georgia improved to 35-16 on the season, 12-7 in Southeastern Conference play with the win Friday, while the Gators moved to 45-6 overall this year, 14-5 in league play, as both squads have one remaining SEC regular-season series next weekend before embarking on Lexington for the 2013 SEC Tournament May 8-11.

It took four innings of zeros on the board Friday in the classic pitcher’s duel between UF’s ace junior Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) and Georgia’s Chelsea Wilkinson before a Katie Browne RBI double in the fifth broke it up, counting as the first hit and score of the game for the Bulldogs for the 1-0 advantage.

After a scoreless sixth, the Gators and Dawgs put on a show in the seventh, combining for four of the five runs in the contest in the final frame. UGA first took advantage of a Gators’ defensive miscue to plate a second run in the top of the inning for the 2-0 lead before a Samantha LaZear two-out bunt single plated a third, giving the Bulldogs a 3-0 advantage heading to the home half of the seventh.

Florida battled though, loading the bags on a freshman Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.) leadoff walk, followed by a sophomore Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) one-out hit-by-pitch for runners on first and second with the top of the order due up. Freshman leadoff Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) dropped a bunt single to juice the bags for Merritt with one away.

Merritt had an epic battle at the plate with Wilkinson, fighting off and taking 15 pitches before drawing a bases-loaded walk for a 3-1 ballgame. Next up, Haeger sent a high flying Wilkinson offering to foul territory in left field for her third sac fly this season to plate UF’s second run of the game. With two down and UF trailing, 3-2, a senior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) hard-hit ball to the UGA third baseman was fielded cleanly and sent to first for the final out of the game.

Stewart led the Gators at the plate with a 2-for-4 performance, extending her current hit streak to nine games, one shy of her season-best 10, while junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.), Little and sophomore Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) all connected for hits on the day.

Rogers (7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) shouldered the loss Friday for the Gators to move to 25-4 on the season, while Wilkinson (7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 14 K) improved to 6-3 in the circle for Georgia. Browne led UGA at the plate with a 2-for-3 performance, contributing two of the Dawgs’ five hits on the night.

UF’s series with UGA counts as Florida’s 13th, 14th and 15th games against a top-25 opponent this season, as UF moved to 9-4 (.692) against the high caliber competition with Friday’s loss. Georgia evened the all-time series in Gainesville 13-13, as the Bulldogs have won four straight at KSP Stadium.

UF’s seniors to be honored Saturday, Gammel and Horton, have accumulated a career record of 198-42 (.825) donning the Florida uniform since stepping on campus as Gators in 2010, including a 76-23 (.767) mark in SEC play. The duo has made two Women’s College World Series appearances and helped led Florida to the national runner-up spot in 2011 in Oklahoma City. Horton, a 2013 Senior CLASS Award Finalist and recipient of a $5K scholarship from the SEC as part of the Brad Davis Award for community service, and Gammel have both shined for the Gators on and off the field, in the classroom and in the community, embodying what it means to be both a student and athlete. Both Kelsey and Ensley are team captains this year.

Courtesy of UF Communications