Special to GC
Gainesville, Fla. - The University of Florida softball team won its home opener against NC State by a score of 1-0 on a cool Friday night at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Florida (7-0) rode a strong pitching performance from first-year right-hander Aleshia Ocasio and combined aggressive baserunning with timely hitting and a clutch defensive play to hold off the Wolfpack. The contest was a pitchers' duel through four innings, as Ocasio (3-0) and Wolfpack starter Emily Weiman allowed a total of two hits before Florida scored the game's first run. With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Nicole DeWitt reached on a Wolfpack throwing error and Kelsey Stewart scored after knocking a single and advancing on a miscue. NC State had a leadoff single in the seventh to put the potential tying run at first base. The next batter hit a deep fly ball to center, and Kirsti Merritt (pictured at left) climbed the wall to rob a go-ahead home run and start an 8-3 double play. Following the heroic grab, Ocasio notched the final out of the game on a swinging strikeout, her 12th K of the night, to seal the 1-0 victory. STARS OF THE GAME * Aleshia Ocasio: The freshman right-hander struck out a career-high 12 batters and walked just one during a two-hit shutout, marking her second complete game of the year. Ocasio lowered her ERA to 0.34 (1 ER / 20.2 IP) and logged her second outing with double-digit strikeouts. * Kelsey Stewart: The All-American had two hits, marking her third multi-hit game of the season and tying Merritt for the team lead. Moving aggressively on the basepaths, Stewart also had a stolen base and scored the game's only run. * Kirsti Merritt: Florida's center fielder saved the win in the seventh inning when she brought back a fly ball that would have been a two-run home run. NOTABLES * Ocasio posted a career-high 12 strikeouts, marking the freshman's second game with double-digit K's in as many starts. * The 12 whiffs are the most in a game by a Florida freshman since Hannah Rogers had a dozen strikeouts against Arkansas on April 9, 2011. * Stewart scored a run for the fourth consecutive game; the junior has crossed the plate in all but one of Florida's seven games this season. * Florida Head Coach Tim Walton now has 499 victories in his nine-plus seasons in Gainesville. * Terri Braswell threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Her daughter, Heather, was an honorary member of the Gator Softball family for six years and inspired the team during its national championship run last season. WALTON'S WORDS On Ocasio's performance in the circle: "That was great poise for her to go out there and throw a shutout and strike out 12 kids on a good offensive team, [and] to keep us in the game when the offense wasn't clicking on all cylinders. She's done that for us now in her last two starts. I commend her a lot for being able to do that and keep us in the game." On Merritt's game-saving catch: "[It was the] best outfield catch I've ever seen in my life. For her to go up there and time it like that - [it was] as good as I've ever seen." On preparing for tomorrow's game against NC State and Iowa: "It's a different challenge. The key is we have to come right back and play NC State again. I think they've got a good club. They showed some nice offensive skills, and they have a great pitching staff. We're probably going to see the rest of their pitchers tomorrow. They've got some good ones, so it will be a challenge for us. That's what we're going to get - we're going to get everybody's 'A' game every time they face us, that's for sure." - Florida Head Coach Tim Walton FLORIDA PLAYER QUOTES Junior Outfielder Kirsti Merritt On her game-saving catch: "Well, we practice these almost every day at practice, and we want it to look as routine as possible. All you think is 'Great timing! Great timing!' That's all I could think about when I caught it... I knew I had it the whole way, but you can see after I caught it I looked down just to make sure I wasn't imagining it. Usually I know whenever I'm going to be able to catch the ball." On Ocasio's performance: "She did great. She's pitching amazing for the past [five outings]. She gets ahead in the count, and then she really makes them chase [pitches]. She does a lot of really good things with her pitching. I'm really proud of her." Freshman Pitcher Aleshia Ocasio On Merritt's game-saving catch: "I thought it was beautiful. We work on that at practice, and to see her perform and do what she needs to do, it was a great catch. It was great to see." On pitching a complete game: "I feel good. I went out there and tried to keep the runs to a minimum, because I know my team is going to go out there and get some runs." UP NEXT UF's first home weekend continues with two games on Saturday: A 1:30 p.m. rematch with NC State, followed by a matchup with Iowa at approximately 4:00. The 1:30 game will air on the SEC Network, with Sam Gore (play-by-play) and Amanda Scarborough (analysis) on the call. WGGG (1230-AM)<http://www.floridasportstalk.fm/> will have the radio broadcast for both games with Corey Brooks (play-by-play) and Megan Bush (analysis). In addition, live stats links can be found on the schedule page<http://www.gatorzone.com/schedule.php?sport=softb> on GatorZone.com.