The No. 19 University of Florida softball team (46-20) fought hard through nine innings, but fell short with a 1-0 loss to No. 5 LSU (52-10) in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship game.
Rachel Mitchell got her first hit of the game with a double to left to lead off the top of the ninth. She hit the ball deep to the wall, but it looked as if freshman left fielder Corrie Brooks (Christmas, Fla.) threw a strike to sophomore Kim Waleszonia (Fontana, Calif.) at second for the out. The first base umpire said the tag was not applied and left Mitchell standing at second. A second consecutive double, this time by Leslie Klein, scored Mitchell and broke up Nelson’s streak of 29 scoreless innings. Killian Roessner continued the Tiger rally with a bloop single to center, advancing Klein to third. Florida sophomore pitcher Stacey Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) struck out the next two batters and forced a ground out to Waleszonia to end the inning and give her team a chance to score.
The Tigers retired the Gators on a strikeout, a fly out and a ground out in the bottom half of the ninth for the win.
Jazz Jackson led off the game with a base hit through the left side for LSU. Nelson caught Mitchell looking for the first out of the game. Senior Lauren Roussell (Cerritos, Calif.) threw Jackson out at second on a fielder’s choice play, leaving Leslie Klein safe at first. The Gator defense would take care of business though as sophomore catcher Kristina Hilberth (Dunedin, Fla.) caught Klein stealing for the last out of the inning.
Waleszonia led off the Gator half of the first. Roussell was hit by an Emily Turner pitch to put runners at first and second. Following a fly out to center by sophomore Ali Gardiner (Waccabuc, N.Y.), Waleszonia was thrown out attempting to steal third for the second out of the inning, but Roussell moved into scoring position on the throw. Senior Melissa Zick (Tampa, Fla.) took Turner to a full count before drawing a two out walk. The two Gators runners would be left on base though as freshman Francesca Enea (Woodland Hills, Calif.) drove the ball straight back at Turner in the pitching circle to end the inning.
Both teams put their leadoff batters on base in the second, but wouldn’t get them any further than first base.
Waleszonia led off the Gator half of the third with a bunt single just one third of the way down the first base line. She moved to second on Roussell’s 18th sacrifice bunt of the season. Following a Gardiner strike out, Turner intentionally walked Zick to give the Tigers a force at three bases. They wouldn?t need it though as Turner sat Enea down looking, ending the Gator threat.
Brooks grabbed a 2-2 Turner pitch for a base hit up the middle in the bottom of the fourth for the Gators third hit of the game.
Roussell drew a one-out walk on a 3-1 count from Turner in the bottom of the fifth. Gardiner grabbed her first hit of the game with a base hit through the right side. Senior Shelley Stevens (Gainesville, Fla.) came in to pinch run for Gardiner at first. Turner offered up a ball to Zick and was replaced in the circle by Dani Hofer. Zick struck out and Enea reached on a fielder?s choice that put Roussell out at third and end the inning.
Nelson and the Gator defense sat down 16 straight LSU batters before Nelson gave up a walk to Klein on a full count with two outs in the seventh. The Tigers had their first runner reach second in the fifth as Nelson hit Killian Roessner with a pitch following Klein’s walk. Nelson ended the Tiger threat as she struck out Shannon Stein with three pitches.
Hilberth led off the Gator half of the seventh with a base hit to right. She moved to second on a Waleszonia sacrifice. Junior Ashley Harris (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) came in to pinch run for her, but was left stranded at second.
Vanessa Soto was hit by a Nelson pitch on a 1-2 count to lead off the eighth. There was a collective sigh and groan in the stadium as Andrea Smith hit a ball deep into left field. As all the fans in Jane B. Moore Field held their breath, the ball fell just inside the fence and into sophomore Brooke Johnson’s (Lakeland, Fla.) glove for the second out of the inning. The threat was not over though as Quinlan Duhon hit a base hit deep in the left side of the infield. Jackson grounded out to Zick, holding the game scoreless going into the bottom half of the frame.
Zick lead off the eighth with a walk for the Gators. Zick stole second on a junior Mary Ratliff (Mt. Sterling, Ky.) strikeout to tie the school record with the Gators’ 112th stolen base of the season. It would make no difference though as Hofer sat down the three batters after Zick to end the inning and send the game into the ninth.
Nelson went the complete game for the Gators, falling in her sixth 1-0 loss of the year. She gave up five hits, walked only one and struck out nine. Her record is now 30-13 on the year. Hofer pitched the final 4.2 innings for the win to improve to 23-2. She allowed only one Gator hit, walked one and struck out nine. Turner started the game and pitched 4.1 innings, giving up four hits, walking four and striking out five.
Zick’s school-record hit streak ended at 16 games, but she reached base on three walks in the game, finishing the game 0-for-1. Zick, Waleszonia and Nelson were named to the All-Tournament team.
“Obviously, you have to give credit to LSU,” Florida Head Coach Tim Walton said. “Their pitchers did a great job of keeping us off balance with the off-speed pitch and the rise ball. When we got runners in scoring position, they put us out. Give them a lot of credit. They did a good job; they are a good team. For us to go nine innings is attributed to Stacey Nelson. She did a good job pitching. In the end, we are saddened by the loss, but if this helps us rebound and get through regionals and super regionals, then that’s how it works. We played hard, it just wasn’t good enough today.”
Florida awaits word on its NCAA Tournament fate. The Gators will find out where they will play their NCAA Regional Sunday at 3:30 p.m. when the field of 64 is announced on ESPNews. Stayed tuned to GatorZone.com for the latest softball post-season information.
Courtesy UF Sports Info