Special to GC
Tampa, Fla. – The University of Florida softball team improved to 3-0 on the season with a doubleheader sweep on the second day of the USF Softball Classic. No. 1 Florida defeated No. 8 Michigan, 2-1, in dramatic fashion in the first game before walking off with an 8-0 (5 innings) victory in the twinbill finale against Illinois State.
Making her first career start against the nation’s No. 8 team, Aleshia Ocasio struck out two batters in the top of the first and stranded a runner at first after allowing a two-out walk. Florida went down in order in the home half. The Gators’ freshman right-hander walked another batter with one out in the second, but worked around it with a fielder’s choice and a strikeout. The Orange and Blue were retired 1-2-3 against in the bottom of the frame.
Michigan’s leadoff batter reached on an error in the third; the Gators turned a 6-4-3 double play before Ocasio induced a flyout to left to end the threat. After Florida went down in order in the home half, the Wolverines had a leadoff single through the left side for the first hit of the game. UF’s first-year hurler promptly halted the visitors’ momentum with a foulout and two strikeouts.
A Kelsey Stewart leadoff single in the fourth was the Gators’ first hit, and she scored two batters later to break a scoreless tie on Lauren Haeger’s single down the left-field line. Armed with a 1-0 lead, Ocasio got some defensive help in the fifth when Bailey Castro ranged far to her right to snag the first out and set up two strikeouts for the freshman. Florida was retired in order in its half of the fifth.
Michigan had a baserunner with one out in the sixth on a Florida fielding error. Ocasio forced a flyout to right and recorded her eighth strikeout to preserve the one-run lead.
In the seventh, a Gator miscue and a two-out double to right-center allowed the Wolverines to tie the game at one run apiece. In the decisive home half, Haeger drew a leadoff walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Ocasio. Following a walk by Castro and a groundout by Fuller, Nicole DeWitt appeared to hit a walkoff three-run homer. However, an illegal substitution wiped out the blast and counted as the Gators’ second out of the frame. With two outs and runners at second and third, Ocasio scored the winning run on a wild pitch during the next at-bat to give Florida a 2-1 win.
UF started fast against Illinois State as Haeger singled and Castro doubled to set the table for DeWitt, who singled through the right side to score both runners and give Florida an early 2-0 lead. After Delanie Gourley and ISU starter McKensie Vissering traded zeros in the second inning, the Gators added another run in the third on a solo home run by Haeger.
Florida’s southpaw posted two strikeouts during a 1-2-3 fourth, and the Gators also were retired in order in their half. The Redbirds had a one-out single to center in the fifth, but Gourley stranded the runner and got all three outs in the frame via strikeout.
In the bottom of the fifth, Taylore Fuller led off with a single to left and advance two bases on a fielding error. She scored on the next play, a single through the right side by DeWitt. Another base hit by Taylor Schwarz set up a three-run home run by Kayli Kvistad, and a base hit by Janell Wheaton set up Stewart for a game-winning RBI triple to center in the mercy-rule victory.
* Florida improved to 5-1 against Michigan during Tim Walton’s tenure as head coach.
* For the second consecutive year, a freshman pitcher beat Michigan in Tampa in her first Gator start; Ocasio got the win against the Wolverines Saturday after Gourley turned the trick in 2014.
* The St. Cloud, Fla., native recorded 10 strikeouts; Ocasio becomes the second freshman UF pitcher to have a double-digit strikeout game in as many years (Gourley – 11 K vs. Radford, March 2, 2014).
* Florida’s third-inning double play against Michigan was UF’s first twin killing of the season; the Gators turned a school-record 28 double plays in 2014.
* The game-winning run that Ocasio scored against Michigan was her first run as a Gator.
* Haeger’s third-inning home run in the Illinois State game marked Florida’s first homer of the season.
* The blast also gave the Arizona native sole possession of third place on the Gators’ career home run list with 53, breaking a tie with Kelsey Bruder.
* The win over Illinois State was the Gators’ third straight in the series, and raised UF’s record against ISU to 3-2 all-time.
* Stewart’s game-winning triple against the Redbirds gives the junior 18 three-baggers for her career, passing Kim Waleszonia for the all-time Florida record.
On Ocasio’s performance in the circle against Michigan:
“I thought she pitched very well. I’m not going to say [she was] better than expected, but I thought she really went out there and commanded good stuff. We didn’t help her that much on defense; she pitched us out of trouble in a couple spots. I thought she handled herself very well.”
On Nicole DeWitt’s three-run home run that was negated by the illegal substitution
“Obviously, when Nicole hits that ball over the fence for a walkoff home run, you’re excited for her. And then as she crosses the plate, you’re getting ready to line up to go shake hands and you see the [opposing] coaches talking to the umpire. Nicole had been subbed out in the fifth inning for defense – we brought in Jess [Damico] to play defense in the sixth and seventh. It turned out to be a major mistake on my part, not re-entering Nicole back into the game for her offense. The biggest bummer for me is you take away three RBI, a home run and a big-time moment from a freshman. Looking on the positive side, the team turned around right away. Nobody was down, nobody was upset, Nicole wasn’t upset. [They] responded on the very next pitch with a run. I was very impressed with the team – they responded the way you want to see. A very resilient team with great character. I’m very happy about the way they did it. They responded and it picked me up.”
On the overall performance from Florida’s freshmen:
“I’m very pleased. You take into account what Lele did in the first game, not to mention Lele coming in to pinch-run for Lauren Haeger on that substitution and scoring on the wild pitch to get the W for herself. Janell Wheaton is swinging the bat very well, Nicole DeWitt is swinging the bat very well, and Kayli Kvistad is swinging the bat very well. It’s nice to be able to go into the season expecting that, and then they step up in the first three games and deliver on that as well. I’m very proud. They’re very professional, too. I watch them hit, and their at-bats are very professional. For that, I give a lot of credit to our upperclassmen to teach them and show them the way for them to be that good this early.”
- Florida Head Coach Tim Walton
Florida finishes its three-day trip to Tampa with two games on Sunday. The Gators will meet Jacksonville at 1:30 p.m. ET before facing host USF at 4:00. WGGG (1230-AM)<http://www.floridasportstalk.fm/> will have the radio broadcast, with Corey Brooks and former Gator All-American Megan Bush on the call. In addition, live stats links can be found on the schedule page<http://www.gatorzone.com/schedule.php?sport=softb> on GatorZone.com.