For the first time since the inaugural season of softball in the league, the Florida Gators have advanced to the Southeastern Conference Championship game. The No. 19 Gators (46-19) defeated the No. 1 Tennessee Lady Vols, 1-0, in Friday night’s second semifinal game. The Gators will now face No. 5 LSU at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Tennessee pitcher Monica Abbott had struck out six Gators in a row when senior Melissa Zick (Tampa, Fla.) took a 1-1 count over the left field fence to give the Gators the 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. The home run was Zick’s 13th of the season and extended her hit streak to 16 games.
Sophomore Ali Gardiner (Waccabuc, N.Y.) was the first Gator on base in the top of the first as she drew a walk from Abbott with two outs in the inning.
Leadoff batter India Chiles was hit by a sophomore Stacey Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) pitch to lead off the bottom of the first. Nicole Kajitani came in to pinch run for her, but was called out for leaving first early with a 2-2 count on Lindsay Schutzler. Schutzler reached on an infield base hit, but was out as the Gators turned a double play on Tonya Callahan’s ground out to senior Lauren Roussell (Cerritos, Calif.) at short.
Tennessee got its second hit of the game in the bottom of the fourth and Schutzler beat out an infield base hit to short with one out in the inning. She stole second to put herself in scoring position. Following the second hit of the inning, Tiffany Huff was hit by a Nelson pitch, putting two Tennessee runners on base. They would not get any further as Shannon Doepking popped up to Gardiner at first to end the inning.
Senior Lacy Howard (League City, Texas) knocked down Florida’s second hit of the game as she took an Abbott offering through the left side with one out in the top of the fifth. She stole second as freshman Corrie Brooks (Christmas, Fla.) struck out swinging. She would not move beyond second though as sophomore Kristina Hilberth (Dunedin, Fla.) grounded out to second.
Schutzler grabbed her third hit in with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. It looked as if Tennessee would extend the inning with a hit from Tonya Callahan, but sophomore Kim Waleszonia (Fontana, Calif.) dove and stretched her 5-4 frame as long as possible to catch the ball in the tip of her glove to end the inning.
Huff was on the receiving end of Nelson’s first walk of the game to begin the bottom of the seventh. Lillian Hammond came in to pinch run for her and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Doepking. Anita Manuma grounded out to Zick at third for the second out of the inning. Jennifer Griffin took Nelson to a full count before Nelson struck her out swinging to send the Gators to the championship game.
Nelson tied the school record for wins with her 30th of the season. Chelsey Sakizzie set the record in both 1997 and 1998. Nelson held Tennessee to just three hits, all by Schutzler, and struck out six. Abbott moved to 41-3 on the season and struck out 13 while allowing only two hits and two walks in the game.
“It was a battle; such a great game to watch,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said. “When you face someone like Monica Abbott and Tennessee, you’re going to have to be on top of your game as a pitcher to keep them off base. Stacey Nelson had good stuff today. She started off a little shaky, but she really came back and did a good job working both sides of the plate.”
Saturday’s championship game will be televised live on Fox Sports South. In addition to Florida’s regular broadcast on WRUF AM850 and GatorZone.com, the SEC is providing a broadcast on XM Radio channel 199.
Courtesy UF Sports Info.