OKLAHOMA CITY — With the Florida softball team just one loss away from its season’s end, it looked as if the Gators were going through some déjà vu against California on Saturday.
The Gators gave up early runs and put up multiple runs in an inning to take the lead just like they did in Friday’s loss to Arizona State. And they also had two similar offensive sequences with the first six batters against Cal ace Jolene Henderson.
But in the mist of all the repetitive nature, Florida (54-11) beat California 5-2 to put an end to the Golden Bears’ season, while extending its own.
The Gators will play Alabama on Sunday at 1 p.m ET. A loss would end the Gators’ season. A win would force an elimination game at 7 p.m. ET, with the winner advancing to the championship round of the Women’s College World Series.
Florida head coach Tim Walton made two particular moves that he said were needed and resulted in success for the Gators – switching Aja Paculba and Tiffany DeFelice’s spots in the lineup, and starting freshman All-American Hannah Rogers over senior Stephanie Brombacher.
The decisions undoubtedly helped the confidence of both Brombacher and Paculba, who have been struggling this WCWS.
Walton said he changed the lineup to ease the pressure off of Paculba batting behind red-hot Michelle Moultrie, while utilizing an offensive asset of his senior catcher.
“The goal for me was having Tiffany DeFelice in the game, my best bunter, to drop a bunt down and move the runner along in a tight game,” Walton said. “It was more for that than anything.”
The move helped Paculba the most as the struggling second baseman went 2-for-3 with an RBI. After the game, the All-American said she’d prefer to stay in the spot because of the hits.
“It’s tough hitting behind Michelle,” Paculba said. “She’s a great hitter and especially now – she is on fire. I think batting in the seven (spot) relaxed me a bit more, took some pressure off of me. I was seeing the ball a little better today so that helped but we’ll see how it goes.”
As for pitching, Walton’s decision to start Rogers came as his team decided she had been the better pitcher going into the game.
But as a groundball pitcher, the hard surface on ASA Hall of Fame Stadium made the ball take bounces that gave the Gators problems as they ended the game with two groundball errors.
Walton then pulled Rogers for Brombacher, a pop-up pitcher, after the fourth inning with a 4-2 lead to “turn the tide.”
“We’re proud of the way Stephanie came in and changed the momentum for us,” Walton said. “I thought that was the key moment in the game securing the lead that we had.”
Brombacher said despite pitching to a tight strike zone, Cal’s aggressiveness at the plate helped her get her first save of the season allowing just one hit and a walk in three innings of work.
“Hannah was making good pitches, and the ground didn’t really work well for that and so (coach) just wanted me to go in there and spin the ball,” Brombacher said.
The Gators got on the board in the third inning scoring three runs off of Henderson and the Golden Bears’ defense with two outs.
Florida started the inning with the Moultrie and DeFelice notching the two outs, which was followed by singles from Kelsey Bruder and Brittany Schutte.
After Megan Bush walked to load the bases, Cheyenne Coyle redeemed herself in her second opportunity with the bases loaded with a RBI-single that scored Bruder and Schutte thanks to an error by California shortstop Britt Vonk.
Paculba then notched her first hit of the game, a RBI-single that bought the score to 3-2.
The Gators would tag on runs in the fourth and fifth innings to seal the deal.
Florida will try to keep their season alive against the Crimson Tide, who have won the two games they’ve played at the 2011 WCWS behind the arm of All-American ace Kelsi Dunne.
In 12 innings against Baylor and California, Dunne left both teams scoreless, giving up only five hits and a single walk while striking out 19 batters.
Both teams met earlier this season in Gainesville with the Gators taking the last two games of the series thanks to game-winning hits by Bruder.
“Bama’s always an amazing game,” Bruder said. “It’s been back and forth throughout the years. Kelsi Dunne has gotten us just as much as we’ve gotten her so it always ends in dramatic fashion so I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow.”
Walton said his team will have its work cut out for it having to beat the Tide twice on a neutral field, but is looking forward to the challenge.
“I hope it’s bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, and we got a chance to win the ball game,” he said.
“I don’t,” Bruder said immediately after.
Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.