OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — The Gators finally got “The Hit” they have been waiting for.
It took a two-out, two-run double in the ninth inning by senior Mary Ratliff for the Gators to defeat Virginia Tech 2-0 and avoid elimination in the Women’s College World Series.
“I was pumped,” Ratliff said. “It was an unreal feeling.”
It was Florida’s 68th win of the season, a new NCAA single-season record. Florida has lost only four games. A fifth loss would end what is already the best season in the program’s 12-year history.
The top-seeded Gators will face the second-seeded UCLA Bruins (51-8) at 7 p.m. EDT (ESPN). It will be the third meeting between the two teams. Florida lost to UCLA 10-2 in 2007 and 11-1 in 2002. Both games were played at UCLA.
Ratliff, who had already struck out three times in the game, drove in pinch runner Kristen Adkins and Francesca Enea with her clutch double in the ninth. Adkins was running in place of Ali Gardiner, who hit a two-strike, two-out single to start the game-winning rally. Enea followed with a single and the Gators loaded the bases when Tiffany DeFelice was hit by a pitch after fouling off several pitches with a full count.
Ratliff talked about changing her approach at the plate yesterday, and made the necessary adjustment in the ninth inning to give UF its first WCWS win.
“I choked up a little bit more on my whole at bat, not just waiting for two strikes,”she said. “I think that helped. It helped me stay a little bit shorter. I got a better of a pitch to hit earlier in the count.”
Stacey Nelson turned in what may have been her best performance in her first-team All-American season. Nelson (46-4) held Virginia Tech to two hits while striking out seven batters to out-duel the USA Softball Player of the Year Angela Tincher.
“The thing that helped me today versus yesterday is that I was able to command both sides of the plate and get my changeup also,” Nelson said. “Coming into that game, I knew how great of a pitcher (Tincher) was, so I had my work cut out for me to not let them score until we scored.”
Tincher (38-10) struck out 19 batters and did not allow any walks, but was touched up for five hits in the loss.
“It was tough at that point of the game to go so long, but I felt like I still had a lot of adrenaline going, and unfortunately, Ratliff made adjustments in the end when in counted,” Tincher said. “
Tincher threw 160 pitches in the game, including 37 in the seventh inning.
“I’m not going to lie, I was tired,” Tincher said. “But when you get in a game like that it could be the last inning of your career. The last thing I am going to do is think about being tired and I do not think that was what was all at fault.”
Tincher’s 19 strikeouts was one short of the WCWS record. Tincher ended her career ranked second in NCAA single-season history with 679 strikeouts. The Hokies are now 0-5 all-time against the Gators.
“[Tincher] was everything we thought she was,” Ratliff said. “She was dominant. We talked about coming in that she was going to get her strikeouts, but there comes a point where you just have to make adjustments and you have to make adjustments. Thank goodness that I my final at bat I was able to do that. That’s what the game came down to, who was going to make the better adjustment at the crucial time.”
Nelson got out of runner on third, no-outs jam in the seventh inning that was set up by a leadoff when UF center fielder Kim Waleszonia misplayed what appeared to be a routine fly ball that ended up dropping just past her glove for the only error of the game by either team.
“It was a curve ball inside,” Nelson said. “I kind of hesitated agreeing with the pitch call, which was probably why it was a bad pitch.”
Florida coach Tim Walton huddled his team in the center field and gave instructions to intentionally walk the number three and four batters in the Hokies’ lineup.
“That’s the two best hitters on their team,” Walton said. “It’s really a no-brainer to me. I had no other opportunities, no other options. We had to do that.”
Nelson said that her pride keeps her from being comfortable with issuing intentional walks, but she had faith in her teammates.
“I wasn’t too concerned,” Nelson said. “That’s not really my style. I just wanted to get a ground ball. My defense was so awesome in that game, I knew that if I got a ground ball we could get a double play and have a shot at getting out of the inning.”
With the bases loaded, Nelson got VT’s Kelsey Hoffman to ground to third base, where Corrie Brooks fielded the ball and threw home to Gators’ catcher Kristina Hilberth who relayed to Gardiner at first to complete the double play.Nelson retired the next batter to escape the inning.
Waleszonia’s stolen base set Florida’s
school record for career steals at 59.
Each team left four runners on base in the game. Florida had two baserunners thrown out while attempting to steal second base. Pinch-runner Danyell Hines and Waleszonia each had a stolen base in the game. Waleszonia’s stolen base set Florida’s school record for career steals at 59.
Seven of the Florida starting players struck out at least twice in the game. Ratliff, Hilberth and Megan Bush each struck out three times. Only Corrie Brooks and Francesca Enea had just one strike out.
UCLA’s starting pitcher will be Anjelica Selden. She is 29-4 this season with a 0.95 ERA. The Bruins lost 4-0 to Arizona State on Friday after defeating Arizona 1-0 on Thursday.