Adding to what could already been described as the best season in Florida softball history, the Gators advanced to the first Super Regional for the program by defeating Texas 3-0 in nine innings at the Florida Softball Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
A brilliant pitcher’s duel and defensive game broke down in the ninth inning when Texas pitcher Meagan Denny hit Florida leadoff hitter Lauren Roussell in the hand.
Senior classmate Melissa Zick fouled off a couple of pitches to stay alive with a 2-2 count before the Florida offense would erupt.
Zick belted a long fly ball to the outfield fence and drive Roussell in. Texas catcher Megan Willis was unable to hold onto the relay throw from the outfield while Roussell executed a perfect slide to the right side of home plate to strike first blood in the game.
“Melissa came up with as big of a hit as we’ve had in the history of this program,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “Before she batted, I asked Missy if she wanted to bunt, but she said ‘I want to hit, coach’ before I could get the last words out of my mouth. I can’t even make that up.”
The Gators dugout spilled onto the field after Roussell crossed the plate, prompting umpire Joe Squires to address Walton about the excessive celebration. Walton then spoke to his team as Squires stood by.
“The championship committee is trying to increase the level of sportsmanship,” Walton said. “I brought the umpire over with me to avoid getting charged with a conference late in the game.”
Florida sophomore pitcher Stacey Nelson was one of the players who mobbed Roussell after Zick’s go-ahead RBI double.
“I was excited, I came out of the dugout and got yelled at,” Nelson said.
It would be difficult to find the Gators at fault for the celebration, as a spirited crowd of 802 fans had the stadium as loud as any fan in attendance could likely remember.
Texas catcher Megan Willis catches a relay throw as Florida senior Lauren Roussell slides into home plate to score the winning run during the ninth inning of the Gators’ 3-0 win against the Longhorns in an NCAA regional championship game on Sunday, May 20, 2007 at the Florida Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Florida advanced to the Super Regional round for the first time in school history with the win. / TIM CASEY
“It was a big-time atmosphere, and I’m really proud of the way we handled ourselves throughout the game,” Florida Head Coach Tim Walton said. “I thought we were a little nervous, and their pitching staff did a great job of keeping us off balance, but we found a way to get it done. We really started to feed off the crowd in about the second inning, and we really started to get fired up in the seventh and eighth innings. They were really loud on every two-strike count. I can speak on behalf of our team when I say that it’s great to be a Gator softball player right now.”
The Gators would add two more runs in the ninth on doubles by Ali Gardiner and Lacy Howard. Gardiner led the Gators with three of Florida’s six hits in the game.
Nelson’s pitching got stronger as the game progressed. She struck out two Texas batters in the fifth, sixth and ninth innings after recording only two strikeouts through the first four innings of the game. Nelson threw fewer than ten pitches in all but the fifth and ninth innings, allowing only three hits and one walk.
“They were very aggressive hitters, I had to pitcher very strategically to them,” Nelson said.
Nelson set the school record for both appearances with 55 and starts 40. She is now 33-13 on the season.
“Our pitching was phenomenal,” Walton said. “Stacey (Nelson) did a great job. We did a good job of limiting our pitches today, and we really got ahead and put away hitters early. We also have to give credit to our defense. We made some great plays all the way around.”
Texas starting pitcher Erin Tresselt was removed in favor of Denny after allowing a double off of the center field fence by Florida second baseman Kim Waleszonia, the second hit of the game for the Gators.
“When they went with their no. 2 pitcher it really threw us off,” Walton said. “When they brought their no. 1 in the game, it seemed like she was throwing 100 mph.”
The Texas pitching duo did not allow any walks and struck out 12 Florida batters.
The Gators will face the winner of the College Station regional next weekend. Dates and times will be released by the NCAA Monday morning. Should Texas A&M lose to Houston today, the Gators would host the Super Regional matchup. If the Aggies prevail, Florida will travel to College Station.
The Florida softball team celebrates after the Gators’ 3-0 win in nine innings against the Texas Longhorns in an NCAA regional championship game on Sunday, May 20, 2007 at the Florida Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Florida advanced to the Super Regional round for the first time in school history with the win. / TIM CASEY