The No. 19 University of Florida Softball team (47-20) tied the school record for wins in a season as it won its first opening round NCAA Tournament game since 2003 with a 7-0 win over Stetson Friday night in NCAA Regional play in Gainesville. The Gators also set a new school record for stolen bases and sophomore pitcher Stacey Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) set the record for wins with her 31st win of the year.
“Overall, we came out after a very good week of practice in which we prepared ourselves well for Stetson,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said. “They’re a good team, obviously, after just winning their conference tournament. I’m proud of the way we handled ourselves, both offensively and defensively. Overall, I thought our offense really came out ready to play and we did a good job running the bases; we were smart out there.”
Florida opened the scoring in the bottom of the third. Sophomore Kim Waleszonia (Fontana, Calif.) was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. She then stole second to move into scoring position. Senior Lauren Roussell (Cerritos, Calif.) beat out a deep infield hit. Waleszonia advanced to third of a fly out to right field by senior Melissa Zick (Tampa, Fla.). A two-RBI double by sophomore Ali Gardiner (Waccabuc, N.Y.) gave Florida the 2-0 lead. Junior Mary Ratliff (Mt. Sterling, Ky.) walked on four straight pitches. Sophomore Ashley Harris (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) came in to pinch run for Gardiner at second. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch from Stetson starter Erica Deemers. Senior Lacy Howard (League City, Texas) beat out a close play at first on an infield hit back at the short stop for the RBI single to score Harris for the three-run lead.
Florida added two more runs in the fourth. Sophomore Kristina Hilberth (Dunedin, Fla.) got her team going with a one-out base hit to left center. She stole second on a strike to Waleszonia. Roussell drew a two-out walk. Zick legged out her third triple of the season to give the Gators the 5-0 edge.
Ratliff led off the Gator half of the fifth with a single up the middle. With one out, Howard drove a base hit to left. Freshman Corrie Brooks (Christmas, Fla.) knocked a base hit up the middle to score Ratliff and push Howard to second. Howard was caught attempting to steal third for the second out of the inning and Brooks took second on the play. Hilberth drew a walk to reach base for the third time in the game and continue the Gators turn at bat. Waleszonia ripped her first hit of the game to centerfield to score Brooks for the final Gator run of the game.
Stetson, making their first NCAA appearance, gave the Gators a scare in the top of the third. With one out, Amy Peters singled to left field. Amy Joyce was safe at first on a fielder’s choice play that put Peters out at second. Joyce then stole second and moved just 60 feet away from scoring on a Sherrel Fountain base hit to left. Florida’s Nelson took care of business though, as she struck out Nicole Forbes to end the inning.
Nelson improved to 31-13 on the season, best the previous record of 30 set by Florida All-American Chelsey Sakizzie in 1997 and 1998. Nelson struck out eight batters and only allowed two hits in 4.1 innings of work. Senior Stacey Stevens (Gainesville, Fla.) came in to relieve Nelson with one out in the fifth, striking out three additional batters. The 11 strikeouts are the second-most by the Gator pitching staff this season. Deemers took the loss for Stetson to move her record to 21-6 on the year. She gave up the first three runs before being relieved by Heather Colding in the fourth. Colding lasted two innings and gave up the remaining four Gator runs. Amanda Lindsey pitched the final inning for the Hatters.
“Thirty-one wins is a tremendous accomplishment,” Walton said of Nelson’s school record. “I definitely can vouch for her work ethic. I challenged her over the summer and she worked at it and had a great summer. I can tell you if it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t be sitting in front of you right now.”
Florida tallied 12 hits in the game as every one of its starters had at least one hit. Ratliff, Howard and Hilberth each had two hits on the day. Ratliff and Hilberth each reached in every plate appearance. Each went 2-for-2, with Ratliff earning two walks and Hilberth earning one. Roussell scored two runs and Zick and Gardiner each earned two RBI. Zick has now reached base safely in 18 consecutive games. She has had hits in 17 of those games.
In the bottom half of the first inning, Zick drew a two-out walk from Stetson starter Erica Deemers. Zick then stole second for the 113th Gator stolen base of the season, beating the school record of 112 (112-142) set by the 2003 squad. The Gators stole four more bases on the game, marking the sixth time this season the team has stolen five or more bases in a game. The Gators are now 117 bases in 138 attempts.
Harris is now the second athlete at Florida to play in two NCAA Championship events in the same season as she also started at defender in each of the Florida soccer team’s three matches in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Former volleyball and basketball athlete and current Santa Fe Community College women’s basketball coach, Chanda Stebbins played in the volleyball and women’s basketball NCAA Championship in the 1993-94, 1994-95 and 1995-96 academic years.
The Gators now advance to face Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday. Georgia Tech defeated Texas 3-2 on a walk off home run in the seventh in the first game of the day. Texas and Stetson will face off in an elimination game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. All of Florida’s NCAA Tournament games are available free on GatorVision Online and are broadcast live on WRUF AM 850 and http://www.GatorZone.com
Courtesy UF Sports Info.