SOFTBALL: Torres Walkoff HR Gives Gators Split

Mirelis Torres doesn't get many chances to hit in game situations so when she's called upon by Coach Karen Johns, she doesn't want to get cheated on her swings.

Johns knows that Torres can jump all over a fast ball so when she called on the junior from Tampa Gaither to pinch-hit for Lacy Howard in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night, she liked the matchup against Alabama's Chrissy Owens. Johns expected Torres to make solid contact. What she didn't expect was a walkoff home run.

"She (Torres) hits speed pretty well," said Johns, "so we knew she would come in there and step up though we didn't expect a home run. We did think she would get a pretty good swing on one."

The pretty good swing turned into a high arching two-run home run that easily cleared the left field wall to give Florida's thirteenth ranked Gators a 6-4 win over tenth ranked Alabama and a split of the Southeastern Conference doubleheader. Alabama won the first game, 5-3. With the split, the Gators are now 28-7 overall, 7-1 in the SEC. Alabama is 37-8, 10-4 in the SEC. The two teams finish off their series with a 2 p.m. Wednesday game at the Florida softball stadium.

Torres' one-out, two-run home run was the first time she's ever delivered a walkoff homer in a college game.

"It was a fat fast ball, a bit up and a little inside," said Torres. "I just jumped all over it. I've hit home runs before but never to win a college game or a SEC game." It was her second home run of the season in only her tenth at bat.

"She doesn't get many chances," said Johns, "but she's good at stepping up in those situations and she accepts her role on the team. She is always ready whenever I call on her."

Getting the win in the bottom of the eighth was a bit of a relief for Johns, who saw her team squander a chance to win the game in regulation in the bottom of the seventh. Lauren Roussell led off the inning with a walk and she beat the throw to second on Stacie Pestrak's sacrifice bunt attempt. Lindsey Cameron bunted both runners over and Melissa Zick was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Owens, a freshman from Miami, regained her composure at that point to get Amanda Butler to pop to second base and strike out Mary Ratliff to end the threat and extend the game to extra innings.

Johns was proud of the way her team handled the disappointment of the bottom of the seventh with their play in the field in the eighth.

"There were two things going on there," said Johns. "One, we had to respond emotionally and two, we had to pinch-run for Roussell twice so that meant we had to move Savana (Kelly) to short and the first ball got ripped right at her, she makes a great play. So there were two things we were contending with and we handled both of those very well."

Alabama jumped on Florida starter Mandy Schuerman for three runs in the first inning, taking advantage of control problems by the Florida pitcher, who walked an uncharacteristic three batters. Two standout defensive plays kept Alabama from delivering a knockout punch. Leadoff hitter Jackie Wilkins led off the game with a single to left field. She made a wide turn around first and was picked off when Cameron unexpectedly rifled a throw to Zick to nail her for the first out. Capper Reed doubled to right to bring in Alabama's final two runs of the inning, but Dani Woods was nailed at the plate on a perfect relay from Michelle Diaz to Zick to Butler.

Florida countered with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Roussell got the Gators started with a home run to right center field. Pestrak struck out but reached first when the ball got through the Alabama catcher. One out later, Butler's grounder to second was booted and went all the way to the right field wall, allowing Pestrak to score.

The Gators had scoring threats in the second and third innings against Alabama starter Jennifer Wright (13-1) but Florida couldn't push across any runs. The Gators finally got to Wright in the fifth when Cameron walked with one out and Zick followed with a home run to left center field to give Florida a 4-3 lead. That brought on Owens (7-2) who struck out two to end Florida's threat.

Schuerman settled down after the first and cruised until the sixth when Alabama tied the game at 4-4 on doubles by Staci Ramsey and Stephanie Van Brakle. Stacey Stevens came on to relieve with two outs and ended the threat by striking out Reed. Stevens (15-5) pitched her way out of a jam in the too of the seventh by striking out Ramsey with runners on first and third. She also gave up a one-out single to Woods in the top of the eighth but pitched her way out of that by getting Woods and Reed on consecutive popups.

Stevens got the loss in game one, giving up three Alabama home runs (Ashley Courtney, Dominique Accettura and Van Brakle) before giving way to Schuerman in the seventh.

"Stacey struggled a little bit in the first game," said Johns. "She wasn't quite as sharp as I would have hoped."

Florida had problems throughout game one with Alabama's big righthander, Van Brakle, who got the 48th complete game of her career with a four-hit, seven strikeout performance. Van Brakle (17-4) allowed two Florida runs in the bottom of the first and one in the fourth before settling down to dominate the final three innings. She set down the final 11 Gator batters of the game.

Johns will likely use both Stacey Stevens and Schuerman in Wednesday's game.

"I'm not sure which one will start and which one will finish," she said. "I'll go home tonight, do some studying and make a decision. We want to finish this series on a high note with a win before we head up to Georgia this weekend."

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