Softball bats continue to struggle

The duo of Hannah Rogers and Lauren Haeger tormented opposing hitters all season with a combined 1.18 ERA and now the Florida Gators are learning what it’s like facing a dominating pitcher.

In the last three games, two against LSU and one against Kentucky, the No. 2 Gators (42-7, 19-4) struggled at the plate.

Florida struck out eight times and didn’t manage an extra-base hit vs. Wildcats senior right-hander Chonda Bell (13-10, 2.57) Friday night en route to its second-straight defeat and a 2-0 loss in the series opener.

“It’s the quality of pitching,” Gators coach Tim Walton said. “There’s no panic. There’s no reason for concern. It’s just quality pitching does that to you, especially with some young inexperienced hitters in there that haven’t seen here a whole lot. She’s done that a lot. It’s not this group. It’s the three seasons before that she’s pitched well against us too.”

After her second shutout of 2012, Bell, an All-SEC Freshman Team member, holds a 2-2 record in the regular season against Florida allowing 13 earned runs in 27 innings pitched.

Florida senior Michelle Moultrie said the rise ball from Bell gave the Gators trouble all night.

Moultrie batted 2-for-3 and finished as the only Florida player with a multi-hit game. Freshmen Sami Fagan and Haeger earned the other two hits for the Gators against Bell.

Haeger singled up the middle in her first at-bat on a 1-2 count. With a fastball, Bell struck her out looking the next time up, which Haeger wasn’t expecting.

The Gators entered Friday averaging four-plus runs in conference play, but plated two runs in their last three games.

For a team with 16 wins via the run rule, run-scoring problems remain puzzling, but Haeger said the Gators guessed at the plate with Bell.

Florida ranks in the SEC in home runs, RBI and slugging percentage. Like Walton said, there’s no reason the Gators can’t slug themselves out of this recent funk.

“We can all hit,” Haeger said. “Our numbers are still great. Everyone is taking their hacks. It’s not like we’re not swinging at anything or getting fooled by everything. We’re just missing by this much and I think once we get it, we should be OK.”

Florida takes on Kentucky at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium for game two.

With one week until the Alabama series in Tuscaloosa, which and most likely decides the regular season SEC title, Florida doesn’t have to worry about its pitching.

Sophomore Hannah Rogers allowed two earned runs over her last 22 innings. Haeger countered with one earned run since the FIU doubleheader Apr. 20.

The Gators have another shot at reigniting their balanced offensive attack less than 24 hours from now.

“I think as soon as we make an adjustment at the plate, we’ll have no problem,” Haeger said. “Hannah is pitching great. We’re both keeping the runs down for the other team. Once we get our hitting to come around, which it will come around tomorrow, I think we’ll be all right.”