Florida softball clinches series win

Freshman Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) tossed a two-hitter with a career-tying 11 strikeouts Saturday as the No. 3/4 Gator softball squad downed Auburn, 3-1, to clinch their seventh SEC series of the season in front of 1,193 fans at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Haeger had a no-hitter going through six and a third until an AU solo shot in the top of the seventh, but for the third time this season, the righty fanned 11 opponent batters to lead the Orange and Blue to a 37-5 overall record and a 17-2 mark in league play.

Three and a half innings of hitless, scoreless play for both teams kicked off Saturday’s contest in Gainesville before junior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) connected for a base hit in the fourth to get the bats going for the Gators. It wasn’t long before senior Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) smacked a two-RBI double to the right center warning track to give the Gators a 2-0 lead in the fifth with what would be her fifth game-winning RBI of the season and the first runs for either team on the day.

Haeger, who earned her 13th start in the circle, issued her only walk of the game in the first inning to Caitlin Jordan, who would eventually find the center-field fence for AU’s first hit – Jordan’s second homer of the series – and the Tigers’ only run of the game in the top of the seventh. Elizabeth Eisterhold then connected for a two-out single for AU’s two hits of the clash.

Haeger worked her seventh complete game of the year to improve to 11-2 overall in the circle for the Gators, while connecting for a hit of her own in the seventh. Jenee Loree (8-7) shouldered the loss for Auburn after working the first 5.1 and giving up UF’s five hits, to five different Gators, and three runs, while fanning seven Gators herself before Hilary Mavromat came on for the final two outs in the sixth.

The Gators left two on in the bottom of the first after sophomore Cheyenne Coyle (West Hills, Calif.) reached after being hit with a Loree pitch, while Haeger followed up with a walk, her team-leading 29th of the season, before a Loree strikeout ended the inning.

Haeger sat the Tigers down in order in the top of the second, including her third strikeout of the day, while Loree retired the Gators in order as well with one K in the home half of the stanza. The Gators’ righty added two Ks to her tally in the third and one in the fourth to keep the confidence up for the home team until the bats got going in the fourth.

It was Horton, the Gators’ catcher Saturday afternoon, who dropped a two-out base hit in shallow right field just behind first base for the first hit of the game for both teams, but a fielder’s choice next retired the side before UF could capitalize.

Haeger added her seventh, eighth and ninth strikeouts of the game in the top of the fifth, retiring Auburn in order with three straight Ks to keep momentum going for the Orange and Blue.

Freshman Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) connected for a one-out base hit to left field in the bottom of the fifth for UF, while sophomore Kasey Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) sent a bouncer over the AU third baseman’s head and into left to turn over the Gators’ lineup with just one out. Next up, Moultrie sent both Medina and K. Fagan across home after roping a two-RBI double to deep right center for the 2-0 Gator lead. A freshman Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) groundout moved Moultrie on to third with two down in the home half of the fifth, but a groundout to short retired the home team before the Orange and Blue could extend the lead.

With a 2-0 lead for the Gators heading to the sixth, Haeger mowed down her 10th Tiger of the day in the top of the inning before connecting for a leadoff base hit to left field to contribute to Florida’s efforts offensively as well. A Gammel fielder’s choice with one out on the board plated Haeger’s pinch runner, Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.), to add a third run to Florida’s score.

Auburn then made an effective change in the circle from Loree to Mavromat, who forced two-consecutive pop-ups to keep UF from adding to the lead.

With one out on the board, Jordan knocked her second homer of the series out of the park in the top of the seventh to narrow the margin, 3-1, spoiling Haeger’s no-hitter, while Elizabeth Eisterhold poked a two-out single through the left side for Auburn’s second hit of the game. Haeger rebounded to fan Branndi Melero swinging with an excited and howling Gator crowd behind her for her career-tying 11th strikeout of the game to seal the deal for the Orange and Blue with an exclamation point.

Florida and Auburn will meet Sunday in the series finale, with first pitch set for 1 p.m. from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Gator and Tiger fans can watch live streaming from GatorVision through GatorVision.tv (pay-per-view), tune in live locally and online to WYGC-104.9 FM, 105 The Game, with Adam Schick and Megan Bush or follow live stats online through Gametracker, with all links accessible on GatorZone.com/softball.

Postgame Notables

– The Gators have won at least five games following all but one of their losses.

– This is the fourth game in a row the Gators have played error free.  Their last error occurred on April 7, during the second game against Ole Miss.

– Kelsey Horton’s 83rd career hit was the first of the game, which came late in the fourth inning.

– The Gators recorded three straight hits in the bottom of the fifth, resulting in two runs scored.

– Today’s win marks UF head coach Tim Walton’s 491st career victory.

– Today’s victory clinches Florida’s seventh straight conference series.  They are 7-0 in this category, including four sweeps.

– Haeger’s 11 strikeouts tie a career best, as she’s now tallied 11 Ks in three games this season.

– Haeger threw at least one strikeout in all seven innings.

– Haeger was on track for her first career no hitter until giving up two hits and a run in the seventh inning.

Courtesy UF Communications