Florida Gators softball opens NCAA play with run rule win

Report on the Florida Gators softball team:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gator pitchers Aleshia Ocasio and Kelly Barnhill combined for a one-hit shutout as the No. 1-seeded University of Florida softball team blanked Alabama State, 11-0, in its NCAA Tournament opener on Friday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

A nine-run splurge in the third propelled the Orange and Blue (54-5) to its 33rd NCAA Regional win and Florida’s fire in the circle held off the Hornets (28-26) in the run-rule win. Ocasio (21-1) hurled the first four innings, giving up just one hit and fanning seven of 13 batters faced. Barnhill capped off the fifth with just one walk and three strikeouts.

After a one-out base hit in the second for the Hornets — their first and only hit of the afternoon — Ocasio fanned the next two batters for five Ks through two innings, and followed that with a perfect third to set up Florida’s seven hit, nine-run show in the bottom of the stanza.

The second time around the batting order was a charm for the Gators, who batted around in the third for the 9-0 lead.

Senior Taylore Fuller led it off, turning the lineup over with a four-pitch walk before back-to-back singles from senior Kelsey Stewart and freshman Amanda Lorenz plated Florida’s first score. Sophomore Kayli Kvistad loaded the bases on another four-pitch walk and senior Kirsti Merritt took one for the team with her 71st career hit-by-pitch to bring in the Gators’ second run.

Sophomore Nicole DeWitt put her stamp on the inning with a bases-clearing triple — the second three-bagger of her career — to push the UF advantage to 5-0. Sophomore Janell Wheaton and Ocasio followed with base hits to set up a Fuller two-run double down the left-field line her second time around in the frame. Stewart ended Florida’s scoring in the third with a two-run single.

Florida scored the game’s final two runs in the fifth on a Wheaton RBI double and an Aubree Munro fielder’s choice.

With Friday’s tourney-opening win against the Hornets, the Gators move on to face the UCF Knights on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Team Notes
The Gators are now 70-33 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 33-18 record in Regionals. During Tim Walton’s tenure as head coach, UF is 65-21 in NCAA play and 28-6 in Regionals.
UF has now won 10 straight Regional contests.
Florida now owns 29 shutouts and 20 mercy-rule victories in 2016.
Friday’s game was broadcast on SEC Network. Florida is now 11-2 in contests that broadcast on national television.
Florida is now 34-0 this season against unranked opponents this season.
UF improved to 20-1 in neutral site games this season.
Following Friday’s shutout victory over the Hornets, Florida has not allowed a run in 11-straight innings. In addition, the Gators are now error-free in 38-consecutive innings.

Stat Watch
UF has now outscored its opponents this season, 363-62.
In 2015, UF had a plus-296 run differential (410-114) through 59 games.
In 2014, UF had a plus-286 run differential (411-125) through 59 games.
Florida’s 62 runs allowed through 59 games is the second fewest in school history through this point in any season.
UF’s 2009 squad allowed 49 tallies through 59 contests and Florida’s last two NCAA Championship teams had allowed more than 110 runs each, respectively.
The Gators have made just 25 errors this season and currently sport one of the best fielding percentages (.984) and earned run averages in the nation (0.89). For comparison, Florida set school records last season with a .981 fielding percentage and just 33 errors committed.
Florida’s astounding 0.89 team ERA (386.2 IP) would go down as the second-best ERA for a single season in program history if the season ended today.
Top ERA Season’s in UF History:
2008 – 0.92 ERA (512.0 IP)
2009 – 0.69 ERA (444.0 IP)
Florida’s miniscule .155 batting average against (386.2 IP) would go down as the best b/avg. for a single season in program history if the season ended today.
Top B/Avg. Season’s in UF History:
2008 – 0.176 b/avg. (512.0 IP)
2009 – 0.161 b/avg. (444.0 IP)
UF did not allow a stolen base on Friday, remaining the only team in the SEC who has yet to allow more than five stolen bases in 2016.
Florida’s opponents have only attempted to steal 11 bases against Aubree Munro and Florida’s catchers this season. That mark would shatter Florida’s school record of 25 attempts that was set in 2015.
In addition, UF’s stolen-base-against percentage of 45% (5-11) this season would be the lowest in school history if the season ended today. Florida’s 2003 team currently holds that mark as they allowed just 51.7% (31-60) of runners to steal a base safely.

Pitching Notes
Florida’s pitching trio has combined to allow just 62 runs, while they have totaled 510 strikeouts. Both of those numbers lead the SEC.
Only two teams in Florida history have ever allowed less than 100 runs in a single season. UF’s 2009 squad allowed just 67 runs and its 2008 team allowed 94 tallies.
Florida’s 510 strikeouts currently ranks second all-time in program history for strikeouts in a single season.

Hitting Notes
Hitting Streaks:
Kelsey Stewart – three games
Amanda Lorenz – two games
Nicole DeWitt – two games
Aleshia Ocasio – two games
With Kirsti Merritt’s hit-by-pitch in the third inning Friday, the senior improved her SEC Career Record to 71 HBP
Sophomore Nicole DeWitt roped a bases-clearing triple down the right-field line against the Hornets in the third inning, her first three-bagger of the season and the second of her career as a Gator
In Florida’s nine-run explosion in the third stanza, senior Taylore Fuller got in on the action with her 11th career double
In the bottom of the fourth, sophomore Janell Wheaton made it double the fun with the 11th double of her career as well

Postgame Quotes
Head Coach Tim Walton:
“It was nice to see a lot of players involved on offense today, as we had eight starters’ record hits which is really good to see. I told Taylore Fuller earlier today, when she gets hits, we’re really tough to beat. When she’s able to turn our lineup over, it makes us a lot of fun to watch.

“When everyone feels like they contribute, it’s easy to go home and feel good about yourself and your team. It’s tough dealing with failure, so to see a lot of players on the plus side, with quality at bats, makes you feel good. Also, it’s good to get win number one.”

Sophomore Nicole DeWitt
On what she saw from the pitch she took for a triple…
“I saw the pitch coming and liked what I saw. I just tried to put a good bat on it. It was a little elevated and I was glad that we were able to put a few runs across afterwards.”

Senior Kelsey Stewart
On getting two hits in one inning…
“I wasn’t trying to do anything special, I just wanted to step into the box and come through for our team and be productive.”

On bouncing back from the struggles at the SEC Tournament…
“It’s always fun when you’re stringing hits together and the entire team is finding success like we had today.

Series History
Friday’s game marked the first contest between Florida and Alabama State.

Next Up
Florida continues NCAA Regional play on Saturday at 12 p.m. against the UCF Knights, who defeated FAU 1-0 in the first game of the Gainesville Regional Friday afternoon. The game will be broadcast on one of the ESPN family of networks and Florida Sports Talk will have the radio broadcast with Adam Schick (play-by-play) and former Gator Megan Bush on the call. In addition, a live stats link will be available on the schedule page on FloridaGators.com.

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Andrew Spivey
Andrew always knew he wanted to be involved with sports in some capacity. He began by coaching high school football for six years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism. While coaching, he was a part of two state semifinal teams in the state of Alabama. Given his past coaching experience, he figured covering recruiting would be a perfect fit. He began his career as an intern for Rivals.com, covering University of Florida football recruiting. After interning with Rivals for six months, he joined the Gator Country family as a recruiting analyst. Andrew enjoys spending his free time on the golf course and watching his beloved Atlanta Braves. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewSpiveyGC.