UF softball wins series opener against No. 6 Tennessee

No. 3 Florida softball emerged from an eight-inning battle victorious over No. 6 Tennessee Friday night, pulling out a 6-5 win in a dogfight series opener at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in front of 1,044 Orange and Blue-clad fans, UF’s largest home crowd of the season.

Junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) drew a bases-loaded RBI walk in the bottom of the eighth to walk things off for Florida, which improved to 26-2 overall this season and 3-1 in Southeastern Conference play. Tennessee moved to 22-5 on the year, 2-2 in league play. Friday’s eight-inning game between Florida and Tennessee marked the second consecutive extra-inning contest between the two squads after last year’s 2-1, eight-inning affair at the SEC Tournament in Tuscaloosa.

The Gators and Lady Vols went tit-for-tat in the runs column throughout the span of the game until the decisive run in the bottom of the eighth, both squads putting up two spots in the first inning and one run in the fourth, while Florida struck with a two-run sixth, followed by Tennessee’s two-run seventh to force extras between the two SEC Eastern Division rivals.

UF improved to 5-1 against ranked opponents in 2013 and 2-1 in extra-inning games this season, chalking up its10th come-from-behind victory of the year.

Junior Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) worked seven innings combined, tossing the first six before being relieved by sophomore Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) in the seventh, and then coming back in to finish things out in the eighth by forcing a three up, three down inning for Tennessee. Rogers improved to 14-2 in the circle, giving up just two earned runs and one walk, while fanning three Lady Vols.

Florida juiced the bags in the eighth, starting with a sophomore Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) leadoff double that chased UT starter Ivy Renfroe (9-2) from the circle in favor of relief pitcher Cheyanne Tarango. FreshmanTaylore Fuller (Trenton, Fla.) kept things rolling for the Gators, using pinch hit single through the left side for runners on first and second, no outs, before the Vols opted to intentionally walk leadoff batter freshman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) to pitch to Tofft. Tofft took three straight balls before a Tarango strike, then plated Medina for the 6-5 Florida victory with a ball on a 3-1 count.

Prior to Florida’s extra-inning work, a back-and-forth battle between the two league foes proved entertaining for all fans in attendance. Tennessee was first to strike with a two-run homer from Tarango herself in the top of the first before Florida countered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the initial stanza, thanks to senior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) and freshman Taylor Schwarz (Palm Beach, Fla.) RBI singles, both to left field for a 2-2 ballgame.

After scoreless second and third innings for both squads, the Vols went ahead, 3-2, in the top of fourth after capitalizing on a Gator defensive miscue, while the Orange and Blue countered in the home half of the inning with a Medina RBI single to knot things up at 3-all.

The Gators then took a 5-3 lead over the Vols in the bottom of the sixth, first going ahead 4-3 on a Renfroe wild pitch before Stewart connected for an RBI single to extend UF’s lead to two runs. The Lady Vols battled back though and made things interesting in the top of the seventh with two outs when third baseman Raven Chavanne beat out an infield hit to short to set up a Lauren Gibson two-run homer that tied the game, 5-5.

Tennessee held UF scoreless in the seventh as the Gators left two runners on, but Rogers returned the favor in the top of the eighth, sitting the side down via a groundout, pop up and fly out to set up UF’s eighth-inning success in the home half of the stanza.

Schwarz and Medina were both 2-for-3 on the day for the Gators, while Stewart and Horton checked in 2-for-4 at the plate for the Gators. Tofft was 1-for-4 with the RBI that counted most.

Both Tennessee and Florida put up 11 hits in the series opener, while the Gators drew six walks to Tennessee’s two. Sophomore Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.) inched one hit-by-pitch closer to the school record (15) with her 12th of the season in the seventh inning Friday.

Madison Shipman led Tennessee with a 4-for-4 performance, while Kat Dotson went 3-for-4 to combine for seven of UT’s 11 hits on the night.

The Gators and Vols will be back at it Saturday in the second game of the series at 11 a.m., a game to be broadcast on ESPNU, the first nationally televised softball contest of the season.

Courtesy of UF Communications