Gators move to 1 win away from WCWS

If they gave out assists to hitters in softball the way they give them to point guards in basketball, Aja Paculba would have gotten an assist for her nine-pitch at bat in the bottom of the first inning. Even though she didn’t get a hit or move Michelle Moultrie to second base, Paculba got the job done by making Arizona State pitcher Hillary Bach show her full arsenal of pitches before hitting a high fly ball to right field for the first out.

On her way back to the dugout, Paculba grabbed Kelsey Bruder by the sleeves of her uniform and carried on 10 seconds of very animated conversation.

“It wasn’t anything except pure motivation,” Bruder said. “The PG-13 version says just kill it!”

That’s exactly what Bruder did. Having seen every pitch Bach could throw her, Bruder went the opposite way on a screwball on the outside part of the plate, smoking a line drive that handcuffed Arizona State left fielder Caylyn Carlson and went all the way to the fence, driving in Moultrie who beat the throw home standing up to give the fourth-ranked Gators (47-8) the only run they would need to beat the Sun Devils in the first game of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at Katie Seashole Pressley Stadium. Florida went on to pile up seven more runs to take an 8-0 mercy rule-abbreviated win over the Sun Devils (44-16) but it was that at bat by Paculba that pretty much set the stage for a typical Florida softball game.

When the Gators have their offense hitting on all cylinders, they take a lot of pitches, foul off a lot of pitches and wear down the opposing pitcher. They may not get to the pitcher the first time through the lineup, but Florida coach Tim Walton knows that the second or third time around the Gators are going to measure the pitcher and start hitting the ball very hard.

Early in the game, Walton says, “The job and the goal up there is to hit strikes and take balls and foul off the tough pitches we can’t put in play.”

Florida managed only the first inning single by Moultrie and the run-scoring double by Bruder the first time through the lineup against Bach Saturday night but by the time Bach had to face the heart of the Florida order the second time, the Gators had her measured. Corrie Brooks singled into the hole at third base in the fourth to drive in Brittany Schutte with the game’s second run in the bottom of the fourth and that just set the stage for a six-run explosion in the bottom of the sixth that ended the game on the eight-run mercy rule.

In the fifth, the Gators got a leadoff triple by Moultrie, a two-run double by Bruder, a two-run homer over the scoreboard in left center by Schutte and another two-run homer over the scoreboard to end the game by Brooks.

Because they’re in such a hitting groove right now, Walton knew that the Gators would get to Bach sooner or later. It was just a matter of patience and staying with the game plan.

“It’s knowing what you can and can’t do,” Walton said. “That’s very important because there are some hitters who can’t hit low pitches and some who can’t hit high pitches. The goal is not to swing at those pitches that you can’t hit no matter what until you get yourself in a position that you have to. I think that’s one thing all our hitters do very well is they know what they can and can’t do and I think that’s the adjustment you see.”

The plan worked to perfection even though Florida ace Stephanie Brombacher really didn’t need a whole lot of support to improve her record to 33-6. Brombacher needed only 90 pitches to dispose of the Sun Devils, holding them to four hits while walking two and striking out five. It was the 11th shutout of the season for Brombacher, who lowered her ERA to 1.92 while earning her 75th career victory to move past Stacey Stevens for second place on the all-time Florida win list.

In recording her third shutout in Florida’s last four games, Brombacher pitched her way out of three potential jams. Brombacher gave up a leadoff double to Katelyn Boyd but she got a break when Boyd was called out for colliding with Florida shortstop Brittany Walker who was trying to field a hard grounder by Lesley Rogers. Given a reprieve, Brombacher got Kaylyn Castillo and Kista Donnenwirth looking at third strikes to get out of the inning.

Brombacher gave up a hard single to Donnenwirth with one out in the fourth but bore down to get a force out at second and a pop fly to escape without any damage. In the top of the fifth, Mandy Urfer was credited with a double when her fly ball to left center hit the fence after Francesca Enea and Moultrie brushed into each other going for the ball. Brombacher responded with a strikeout and then got Boyd on a weak tapper to first to end the threat.

Walton, who has been praising Brombacher’s mental toughness the past couple of weekends, said his pitcher’s ability to focus with runners on base has been a critical element in Florida’s four straight post season wins.

“You have to buckle down and make a pitch or make a play when someone’s on base or you’ll give up the run,” Walton said. “It’s the mentality of what you grow up with. Do you want to win or do you want to lose?  She wants to win.”

After pitching out of the fifth inning jam, Brombacher didn’t have to go out to the circle again because the Gators responded with six runs to put the game out of reach.

Moultrie, who got the game started with a single off the second baseman’s glove, started the fifth with a triple that just stayed fair after it hopped over the first base bag. Once she saw the ball heading for the right field corner, Moultrie turned on the speed.

“I was thinking triple all the way,” Moultrie said. “It’s my job to get on base and get things started. It was really exciting to see the way my teammates were jumping up and down in the dugout.”

Paculba followed with a walk and then Bruder sent a seeing-eye double that kicked up chalk after it bounced over the first base bag to score Moultrie and Paculba. That sent Bach to the showers and brought on Sam Parlich, who was greeted by an Enea sacrifice bunt which moved Bruder to third. Schutte gave the new pitcher a rude greeting with a towering blast over the scoreboard for her 16th home run this season. After a walk to Megan Bush and a pop out by Tiffany DeFelice, Brooks hammered her 10th homer of the season to end the game.

The win leaves the Gators one win away from a third straight trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. The Gators and Sun Devils will square off Sunday at 3:30 in a game that will be seen on ESPNU. Should Arizona State win, the Gators and Sun Devils will square off for a third time Sunday evening.

GAME NOTES: The two home runs raised Florida’s total to 102 on the season … The Gators now have five players with at least 10 home runs this season. EneaT leads with 20 while Schutte has 16, Bush has 14, Bruder 13 and Books has 10. That number could swell by two if DeFelice (9) and Paculba (8) get some pitches they can drive … Brombacher is now 75-6 in her Florida career … The shutout was the 30th of Brombacher’s career … Moultrie raised her batting average to .413 and her on base percentage to .469 … Walton improved his Florida record to 293-64 and his overall record to 396-128.


SUPER REGIONALS / Best-of-3 series / On-campus sites / May 27-30

TUSCALOOSA, ALA. / Alabama Softball Complex / University of Alabama / Friday-Saturday, May 28-29

Friday, May 28

Game 1: (16) Hawai’i (47-13) vs. (1) Alabama (51-9), ppd., inclement weather.

Saturday, May 29

Game 1: (1) Alabama 8, (16) Hawai’I 0 (5). Alabama leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.

Game 2: (16) Hawai’i 8, (1) Alabama 7. Best-of-3 series tied 1-1.

Sunday, May 30

Game 3: (16) Hawai’i (48-14) vs. (1) Alabama (52-10), 12 p.m. Winner advances to Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla.

COLUMBIA, MO. / University Field / University of Missouri / Saturday-Sunday, May 29-30

Saturday, May 29

Game 1: (9) Missouri 1, Oregon 0. Missouri leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.

Sunday, May 30

Game 2: Oregon (36-20) vs. (9) Missouri (50-11), 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 3 (if necessary): Oregon vs. (9) Missouri, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

LOS ANGELES / Easton Stadium / University of California, Los Angeles / Saturday-Sunday, May 29-30

Saturday, May 29

Game 1: (5) UCLA 10, Louisiana-Lafayette 2 (5). UCLA leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.

Sunday, May 30

Game 2: Louisiana-Lafayette (45-17) vs. (5) UCLA (44-11), 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

Game 3 (if necessary): Louisiana-Lafayette vs. (5) UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

GAINESVILLE / Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium / University of Florida / Saturday-Sunday, May 29-30

Saturday, May 29

Game 1: (4) Florida 8, (13) Arizona State 0 (5). Florida leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.

Sunday, May 30

Game 2: (13) Arizona State (44-16) vs. (4) Florida (47-8), 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Game 3 (if necessary): (13) Arizona State vs. (4) Florida, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

SEATTLE, WASH. / Husky Softball Stadium / University of Washington / Thursday-Friday, May 27-28

Thursday, May 27

Game 1: (14) Oklahoma 6, (3) Washington 1. Oklahoma leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.

Friday, May 28

Game 2: (3) Washington 3, (14) Oklahoma 0. Best-of-3 series tied 1-1.

Game 3: (3) Washington 4, (14) Oklahoma 0. (3) Washington (50-7) advances to Women’s College World Series at Oklahoma City, Okla.; (14) Oklahoma (47-12) eliminated.

ATHENS, GA. / UGA Softball Stadium / University of Georgia / Friday-Saturday, May 28-29

Friday, May 28

Game 1: (6) Georgia 7, (11) California 0 (5).Georgia leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.

Saturday, May 29

Game 2: (6) Georgia 10, (11) California 1. (6) Georgia (48-11) advances to Women’s College World Series at Oklahoma City, Okla.; (11) California (44-19) eliminated.

TUCSON, ARIZ. / Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium / University of Arizona / Friday-Saturday, May 28-29

Friday, May 28

Game 1: (10) Arizona 2, Brigham Young 1. Arizona leads best-of-3 series, 1-0.

Saturday, May 29

Game 2: (10) Arizona 10, Brigham Young 2 (5). (10) Arizona (48-11) advances to Women’s College World Series at Oklahoma City, Okla.; Brigham Young (46-13) eliminated.

ANN ARBOR, MICH. / Alumni Field at Wilpon Softball Complex / University of Michigan / Thursday-Friday, May 27-28

Thursday, May 27

Game 1: (15) Tennessee 5, (2) Michigan 0.

Friday, May 28

Game 2: (15) Tennessee 4, (2) Michigan 3. (15) Tennessee (47-13) advances to Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla.; (2) Michigan (49-8) eliminated.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.