Gators softball squeezes by Tigers

The No. 3/4 Gator softball team came out on the winning end of a back-and-forth battle with the Auburn Tigers Friday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, taking a 3-2 decision in the series opener between the two squads.

Junior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.) broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth with a one-out RBI single to plate the game-winning run as the Gators improved to 36-5 on the year, 16-2 in Southeastern Conference play.

After senior Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) put up the first run of the game with a solo shot – her ninth of the year – in the bottom of the third, Auburn countered with two fourth-inning scores to take a 2-1 lead. Florida knotted the contest in the bottom of the fourth stanza for a 2-2 tie heading to the fifth, enabling Horton to send her fifth game-winning RBI of the season across home.

Florida ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) jumped out of the gates hot, with two strikeouts each in the first and second innings, then settled in to finish the evening with six Ks. Rogers (21-3) worked her 18th complete game of the season, allowing just five hits and two runs to pick up her 21st victory.

It was starter Lauren Schmalz who shouldered the loss for the Tigers after giving up six of UF’s eight hits, while all three Florida runs belonged to the AU starter. Schmalz moved to 7-7 on the year and the Tigers went to 26-16 overall and 5-12 in league action this season. Angel Bunner came on for 2.0 innings of relief and gave up two Gator hits, while retiring two by strikeout and walking one to finish out the series opener for Auburn.

On the offensive side, the Gators backed up Rogers by connecting for eight hits, led by freshman Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) and junior Ensley Gammel (Bakersfield, Calif.), who tallied two each.

Florida loaded the bags in the bottom of the first after S. Fagan dropped a one-out base hit in shallow left center, while sophomore Cheyenne Coyle (West Hills, Calif.) drew a two-out free pass. Next up, Horton was hit by a Schmalz pitch to load ‘em up. Schmalz tallied her lone strikeout of the contest to keep the Orange and Blue off the board in the initial stanza, stranding three Gators on base.

After a fly out to left field in her first at-bat, Moultrie put a little more power into it the second time around, blasting one over the left-center fence to put the Gators on the board first in the bottom of the third inning with her ninth round-tripper of the year. The Tigers were quick to counter, though, as Caitlin Jordan smashed a bomb of her own over the scoreboard to knot the game at on apiece in the top of the fourth stanza.

Auburn tacked on another run in the fourth with bases loaded on a fielder’s choice when S. Fagan was called for interference, allowing Auburn’s Branndi Melero to cross home for a 2-1 Tiger lead following what would have been the final out of the inning when Coyle tagged third on the play. The Gators rallied though, as Rogers forced Lauren Guzman to fly out to right to retire the side.

A Gammel RBI single to right field knotted the game at 2-all in the bottom of the fourth after freshman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) worked for a ground-rule double after Melero prevented a homer in center field with a leaping defensive move that swatted the ball back into play. Freshman Jess Damico (Gray Summit, Mo.), running for Castro, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Gammel’s hit, resulting in a 2-2 game.

Rogers issued a two-out walk, one of just three on the night, in the top of the fifth, but fanned Melero to keep the Tigers from adding runs and giving the Gators, and Horton, their opportunity to win it in the fifth.

After S. Fagan led off with a base hit, Auburn opted to exchange Schmalz for Bunner in the circle, which was effective initially as Bunner retired Coyle by strikeout before allowing S. Fagan to take second on a wild pitch. Next up, freshman Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) drew a walk before Horton dropped her RBI single in shallow left center to plate Sami for the 3-2 lead. A pop up and line out ended the inning, but the third run was all UF would need to top the Tigers in Friday’s opener.

Both UF and AU had one more hit each in the game, notably a Jordan two-out triple that put her in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh to threaten, but Medina snagged a ball at second and tossed to Haeger at first for the final out of the game.

The Gators and Tigers will do it again Saturday in the second game of the series, with first pitch set for 1 p.m. from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Courtesy UF Communications