The No. 2 Florida Softball team (58-2, 26-1 SEC) clinched at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular season title with a doubleheader sweep of No. 13 Tennessee (46-12, 14-11 SEC), 4-2 and 6-5 in 11-innings. The 11-inning game two tied the record for longest game in school history.
The wins were a total team effort, as each of the nine starters in the batting lineup got a hit in the double header, and seven different Gators scored a run. Junior Ali Gardiner (Waccabuc, N.Y.) led the team with five hits on the day. Freshmen Megan Bush (Anaheim Hills, Calif.) and Aja Paculba (Wildomar, Calif.) and junior Danyell Hines (Bryan, Texas) each scored two runs.
Junior Kim Waleszonia (Fontana, Calif.) led off the game with a double to center. With one out, she scored the first run of the game on a single up the middle by Gardiner. Gardiner moved to second on the play as the Lady Vols attempted to throw Waleszonia out at home. A wild pitch to sophomore Francesca Enea (Woodland Hills, Calif.) put Gardiner on third. Bush hit her 11th home run of the season over the scoreboard in left center for the 3-0 lead.
The Lady Vols threatened putting runners in scoring position in the first and second innings, but did not plate a run until the fifth, when they narrowed Florida’s lead to just one run. Kenora Posey reached base on an infield base hit. A Gator error put two runners on. With one out, Shannon Doepking reached on a fielder’s choice that left all runners safe and the bases loaded. Tiffany Huff drew a walk on a full count to bring in Tennessee’s first run on the game. With two outs, Erinn Webb was hit by a pitch, bringing in the second run of the inning, narrowing Florida’s lead to 3-2.
Florida scored its final run in the top of the seventh. Sophomore Corrie Brooks (Christmas, Fla.) led off the inning with a double to left. Hines came in to pinch run for Brooks at second. Waleszonia laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Hines to third. Paculba hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Hines for the 4-2 Gator lead.
Junior Stacey Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) and the Gator defense sat down the Lady Vols in order in the bottom of the seventh to ensure the Gator victory. Nelson improved to 36-2 on the year with the win. She struck out eight, while scattering five Lady Vol hits and walking four batters. Ashton Ward pitched the first two innings in the loss for Tennessee, giving up the first three runs on four hits. Danielle Pieroni pitched the final five innings, giving up five hits and one run.
Tennessee got on the board first in game two. Leadoff batter Kenora Posey reached on a Gator error. She advanced to second on a bunt single by Lillian Hammond. Tonya Callahan’s base hit down the left field line scored Posey for the 1-0 Lady Vol lead.
The Gators tied the game at 1-1 in the next half inning. With one out freshman Tiffany DeFelice (Coral Springs, Fla.) hit a solo home run, her seventh of the season.
Florida added three more runs in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead. Paculba drew a one-out walk. Gardiner hit a RBI double off the center field wall to give the Gators the one-run lift. Bush hit another two run homer, her second of the day and 12 of the season gave the Gators the three-run lead.
Tennessee tied the game again in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Chandra Mogan drew a walk from Nelson, who replaced freshman starter Stephanie Brombacher (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) in the fifth. With two outs, Hammond reached on an infield base hit. A second walk, this one to Callahan, loaded the bases. Doepking hit a two-RBI base hit to left to reduce Florida’s lead to just one run. Huff’s base hit up the middle to score Callahan tied the game.
The game stayed knotted until the top of the 10th. Junior Le-Net Franklin (Belton, Texas) started the inning at second due to international tiebreaker rules. Junior Kristina Hilberth (Dunedin, Fla.) walked. Both runners moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Brooks. Waleszonia’s sacrifice fly Tennessee was not ready to give up yet as they tied the game again in the bottom of the inning. Mogan started at second. With one out, Hammond singled to third, putting runners at first and third. Callahan drove a base hit to left to bring in the game-tying run. Sharp Gator defense turned the six-four-three double play to end the inning and send the game to the 11th.
Florida was in good position in the 11th as the team’s leading run scorer, Paculba, started the inning at second. She advanced to second on a wild pitch, putting her just 60 feet from the win. With one out, Enea’s sacrifice fly brought in Paculba to score what would be the game winning run.
Nelson pitched her second seven innings of the day to earn the win and improve to 37-2. She gave up seven hits and struck out seven batters, while giving up four of the five Tennessee runs. Brombacher pitched the first four innings for the Gators, striking out four and giving up five hits. Megan Rhodes went the distance for Tennessee, giving up the six Gator runs on seven hits. She struck out 14, while walking 10.
Alabama also swept Georgia today, by scores of 12-3 and 10-1. A win by Florida or a loss by Alabama tomorrow will give the Gators the 2008 SEC title outright.
The final game between the two teams begins on Sunday at 1 p.m.