Special to GC
Gainesville, Fla. – The No. 1-ranked Gator Softball team completed a three-game sweep of No. 25 Texas A&M with a 9-0 (5 innings) win on Sunday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Seven Gators scored and eight players had at least one hit. Senior Lauren Haeger (23-0) allowed just one hit and no walks while striking out seven to set a school record for the best start to a season in program history.
The Aggies (34-17, 9-12 SEC) took a 1-0 lead on a solo home run to left-center in the top of the first, and Florida answered with three runs in the home half. Kelsey Stewart tripled to center to lead off, coming home with the tying run on a single up the middle by Nicole DeWitt. Back-to-back infield singles by Kirsti Merritt and Lauren Haegerbrought the freshman home to give the Gators a 2-1 lead before a pair of two-out hits by Taylore Fuller and Janell Wheaton allowed Merritt to score UF’s third run.
Florida raised its advantage to 5-1 with two runs in the second inning. Justine McLean led off with an infield single and then stole second, moving to third on Stewart’s single and coming home on a productive groundout by DeWitt. The junior, who had stolen second after her base hit, scored from third on another RBI groundout from Merritt.
The Orange and Blue (47-4, 16-4 SEC) padded their lead with a run in the fourth, starting with another infield hit from McLean. The sophomore then stole second and came home on DeWitt’s RBI single up the middle. UF then plated three runs to win the game in the fifth. Fuller drew a walk and advanced when Janell Wheaton reached on a fielder’s choice to set up a two-run single by pinch-hitter Jessica Damico that scored Fuller and brought in Wheaton on a throwing error. Stewart sealed the mercy-rule victory on the next play with an RBI single to left-center, producing the final margin in the Gators’ 9-1 win.
STARS OF THE GAME
- Lauren Haeger: The Gator pitcher allowed just one hit on the day while issuing no walks and striking out seven Aggie hitters.
- Nicole DeWitt: The California native drove in three runs to tie her career high; she has posted three RBI in a game four times this year.
- Jessica Damico: The senior knocked her first hit of the year to put the Gators ahead 8-1, and then scored the game-winning run in her final regular-season home game.
- Haeger’s win was her 23rd in a row to begin the season, passing Stephanie Brombacher (22-0 in 2009) for the best start to a campaign in UF annals.
- Florida earned the 900th win in program history.
- This marks the second consecutive year the Gators have notched a milestone in the series finale against Texas A&M; last season, UF gave Head Coach Tim Walton his 600th career win on Easter Sunday.
- The Gators won their ninth straight conference game and their 14th consecutive contest overall.
- UF has won six consecutive conference series.
- Florida logged its fourth straight series sweep.
- The Gators finished the month of April with a perfect 15-0 record.
- The Orange and Blue one-hit an opponent for the seventh time this season, and the third time in a game of seven or more innings (last: 4/1 vs. UNF).
- Stewart recorded her team-leading fifth three-hit game of the year, and tied her career-best with an 18-game hit streak (also: 2/22-3/23).
- DeWitt posted her 10th multi-hit contest and her sixth multi-RBI game this season.
- McLean notched her fifth multi-hit game and scored twice for the second time this year (also: 3/28 at Mississippi State).
On how Sunday’s win demonstrates the Gators’ versatility:
“We’re adaptable to a lot of situations. That was the biggest thing I noticed. If we need to hit grand slams, we can find a way to do that. If we need singles, we can do that. If we need bunt base hits or steals, we can do that. To get contributions from Justine and Nicole and Kelsey, I think that was important. The role players did a nice job too. As much as anybody today, I was excited for Jess Damico to get that hit down the line to prolong the inning for the victory, but also to get an RBI and get a hit on the season, it was cool. Her walk-up song played – there were so many cool things I took out of that. That probably fired me up as much as anything.”
On the team’s plan with final exams scheduled this week before a series at Missouri:
“First, and foremost, they’ve got to take care of their bodies and do a good job of doing the things that they do at this time of year. From there, they’ve got to get after their finals and put the time in, and then we’ll get ready for Missouri. I don’t want to make this more than it is – I just want our team to prepare like we always prepare and do what the Gators do. That’s our goal – just try to make things as normal as possible.”
On building a program that has won 900 games all-time:
“I challenged my team in 2009 after we played for a national championship for the first time. I wanted them to all take a snapshot of which programs in the country they had the most respect for from a competitive standpoint. I wanted to take those snapshots and turn this program into being that kind of program, with the ability to embrace every player that we have. I want this to be about friendships, relationships and character. That was what we talked about. The wins and the losses take care of themselves with good players. The program and being able to withstand everybody’s best shot for a lot of years comes from the character and the skills of our recruits. The keyword is ‘program.’ This is a program. This isn’t about Tim Walton or Kelsey Stewart or Lauren Haeger. This is about everybody who has chosen to be a Gator. We all made choices to be a Gator, and we’re taking full advantage of our opportunities. We love every second of it.”
— Florida Head Coach Tim Walton
FLORIDA PLAYER QUOTES
Senior OF Jessica Damico
On driving in a run and scoring the game-ending run:
“It’s pretty awesome to know that I’ve put in the work to get the job done that my team needs me to do. Through all of it, they’ve supported me and I’ve supported them. It’s just nice to be able to go out and give them what they need. It’s fun.”
On her approach as a pinch-hitter:
“You have to know what the pitcher is throwing and you can’t just read the other players. When you go in to [pinch] run, I always check how everyone is playing, but when you’re hitting you have to make sure you’ve been talking with your teammates and know what the pitcher is throwing.”
Senior RHP/1B Lauren Haeger
On her final regular-season homestand:
“It was amazing. I just want to thank everyone for putting in so much effort and time into what they did for us yesterday [during the Senior Day ceremony]. Everyone truly makes that special, all the coaches and teammates just did a great job. It was amazing to celebrate with my five best friends. We’ve been through so much and we just have so many memories so it was just an amazing weekend overall. Everyone succeeded in what they did.”
On her emotions as the regular season winds down:
“I don’t think it’s going to hit me until we’re truly done. We still have a really long last part of the season, so I feel like this isn’t the last time I’m going to pitch on this field or with these people. It was a great weekend and I’m excited for next weekend to close out SEC play and go to the tournament.”
Junior 2B Kelsey Stewart
On the Gators’ 14-game win streak: “I don’t really think we look at our record as much. We just look at winning every pitch and every game and really focusing on the little things to get a win. I think we’re just confident in our at-bats. We’re just doing what we know how to. We’re not really stressing over one run. You have to score to win. It’s about working the little things and knowing we have each other’s back.”
On Florida’s senior class playing its last regular-season home game: “It’s actually really sad. Those are the girls I’ve been with the longest, for every senior day. They are great people, every single one of them. I just know that I have lifelong friendships. But knowing that it’s our last home game and home series on this field is really special because I’ll never have another Katie Medina to my right.”
Florida opens its final regular-season series on Friday with a 7:30 p.m. ET game at No. 15 Missouri. The contest will air on SEC Network+ through participating TV providers only via WatchESPN. Florida Sports Talk will have the radio broadcast with Adam Schick (play-by-play) and former Gator All-American Megan Bush (analysis) on the call. In addition, a live stats link can be found on the schedule page on GatorZone.com.