By Ryan Randall:
Heading into this weekend’s series against the Missouri Tigers (38-13, 14-12 SEC), the Florida Gators (49-5, 17-5 SEC) needed a sweep to ensure their fifth regular season SEC Championship. Friday and Saturday’s contests were close, but the Gators were able to pull out 7-6 and 9-6 victories in the two games.
However, the Tigers altered championship hopes for Florida Sunday, defeating the Gators 3-2 in eight innings.
Missouri struck first in the bottom of the third inning as Sami Fagan hit a single to left field that was just out of reach for a sliding Jessica Damico. The hit allowed Emily Crane and Taylor Gadbois to score, putting the Tigers up 2-0. On Florida’s next at bat, Bailey Castro and Taylore Fuller were hit by pitches consecutively, placing runners on first and second base. After a Kayli Kvistad pop up out, Aubree Munro hit a single up the middle to advance Fuller to second and take pinch runner Justine McLean home for a 2-1 score. Taylor Schwarz would strike out on the ensuing at bat, but Kelsey Stewart would knock in Fuller with an RBI single to left field.
Throughout the game, Florida’s defense made plays in key moments to keep the score tied up. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning, Stewart caught a ground ball from Corrin Genovese, tagging Anna Reed and throwing out Genovese for the double play. In the bottom of the fifth, with runners on first and second, Missouri third baseman Amanda Sanchez hit into another double play to keep the Tigers from adding anymore runs.
In the bottom of the second, Missouri threatened again as Jordan Zolman singled to right field. Pinch runner Kayla Kingsley advanced to second off a Genovese ground out, putting the winning run in place with one out. However, Florida’s pitching forced a strikeout and a line out to end the inning and keep the score knotted up at two apiece.
Despite Florida’s ability to make key stops to keep the game tied, Missouri would continue to get players on base. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Fagan singled to center field, and would make it to second after a Paige Bange sacrifice bunt. On the next at bat, a wild pitch by Delanie Gourley allowed Fagan to advance to third. Gourley had trouble locating the strike zone in the eighth, ultimately intentionally walking Natalie Fleming and Kirsten Mack after spotty pitches. Kelsea Roth won the game for Missouri on a sacrifice fly that allowed Fagan to score.
While the Gators didn’t sweep Missouri, they can still win the regular season championship with the help of LSU win this weekend. The Tigers play Auburn in their series finale Sunday.