Softball advances to regional final

The No. 19 University of Florida Softball team advanced to the NCAA Regional Final with an 8-0, five-inning win over No. 17 Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon at the Florida Softball Stadium. The Gators earned their 48th win of the season, setting a new school record.

Freshman Francesca Enea (Woodland Hills, Calif.) hit the game-winning grand slam in the top of the third to give the Gators the 4-0 lead. Sophomore Kim Waleszonia (Fontana, Calif.) reached on a bunt single to lead off the inning and advanced to second on a throwing error by the Yellow Jacket catcher. She moved to third on a sacrifice by senior Lauren Roussell (Cerritos, Calif.), her 19th of the season. Following a senior Melissa Zick (Tampa, Fla.) ground out, sophomore Ali Gardiner (Waccabuc, N.Y.) was hit by a Whitney Humphries pitch. Junior Ashley Harris (Royal Palm Beach, Fla.) came in to pinch run for Gardiner and stole second. Junior Mary Ratliff (Mt. Sterling, Ky.) drew a walk on a full count to load the bases for Enea. Tiffany Johnson came in to replace Humphries in the pitching circle and threw the pitch that gave the Gators the lead.

“I’m glad to see (Enea) hit that ball hard,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said. “I knew when she hit it that it was gone. She’s been working hard and has had some ups and downs physically and mentally this season.”

Roussell drew a walk to lead off the fifth inning. She stole second with one out. Gardiner drew the second walk of the inning. Ratliff reached on an error by the Georgia Tech first baseman to load the bases with Enea coming to the plate. Enea’s hit wouldn’t be as big in this inning, but she still earned another RBI as her sacrifice fly to center scored Roussell from third. Senior Lacy Howard (League City, Texas) hit her seventh home run of the season to clear the bases and put the Gators up 8-0. Howard’s home run was the 48th by the team this season and tied the school record for team home runs in a season. The 2005 squad also hit 48 home runs.

Sophomore pitcher Stacey Nelson (Los Alamitos, Calif.) and the Florida defense sat down the Yellow Jackets in order in the bottom of the fifth on a line out and ground out to Roussell and short and a strike out to end the game by the eight-run rule.

Nelson allowed only two base runners in the game on a hit and a hit batter. It was her sixth one-hit game of the season. She is now 32-13 on the year. Humphries took the loss for Georgia Tech to move to 23-6 on the season.

Georgia Tech will play the winner of the Texas vs. Stetson game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night. Florida advances to the Regional Championship game for the first time in the current format and the second time in school history, as the Gators played California for a regional title in an eight-team regional in 2000. The Gators will face the winner of Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game at 1 p.m. on Sunday to determine who advances to super regional play.

“A great opportunity stands in front (of us) tomorrow to play in a regional championship,” Walton said. “A regional championship is something we haven’t been able to capture as a program. We’re excited about where we are right now. Whoever wins the night cap is going to be a tough fight for us tomorrow. All these teams have been such good teams all the way through the season. It is nice to know we’ve got a team of competitors that are going to fight for every one of their at bats and for every pitch they throw.”

Courtesy UF Sports Info.