SEC SOFTBALL: Shoddy Defense Eliminates Gators

The bad news is that the Florida softball team continued its historical swoon in Southeastern Conference Tournament play Friday afternoon, taking one on the chin, 9-1, to LSU in an elimination game. The good news is that even with the loss, the Gators have an excellent shot to host an NCAA Regional next weekend.

Coupled with Thursday's 4-0 loss to Tennessee, the Gators were two and through in the SEC tournament for the fourth time under Coach Karen Johns. Overall, in her five years at the helm of the Gator softball program, the Gators are 1-10 in SEC Tournament action and have been outscored 49-11 in those 11 games. For the season, Florida is 41-21. LSU, now 31-22, will play Auburn in an elimination game Saturday morning.

What did the Gators in Friday afternoon was the worst defensive effort of the season. LSU combined 11 hits with six Florida errors to cruise to the win. In the six-run fifth inning, LSU combined a two run home run by Stephanie Hill and three Florida errors to put the game on ice.

"Florida's going through a little funk that we went through," said LSU Coach Yvette Girouard. "We lost nine straight [earlier in the season] and we looked like we had that deer in the headlight look. I think Florida is going through that right now. I've seen that look this year and I'm just glad it's not our team going through it."

The Gators used three pitchers against LSU and two of the three were done in by the defense. Mandy Schuerman got the start and in three and two-thirds innings before being lifted for Stacey Stevens in the fourth after she had given up three consecutive hits that produced LSU's first run of the game. Stevens suffered through the three-error fifth and reliever Amanda Knowles gave up a pair of runs in the sixth, one of which scored on a three-base error.

Florida found the sledding tough against LSU righthander Emily Turner (17-15), who needed only 81 pitches while scattering six Gator hits. Florida came ever so close to a pair of home runs, but Schuerman and Lindsey Cameron both had to settle for doubles when the wind kept their long fly balls in the park.

"My stuff wasn't moving as well as I'd like it to," said Turner, who struck out four and didn't allow a walk. "I think I did a great job of controlling the batters. Florida's got a great lineup all the way down, one through nine, so I'm proud of my performance today."

Florida got its only run of the game off Turner in the bottom of the sixth. Cameron's double combined with a hit batter (Kristen Butler), a single to right by Schuerman and a fielder's choice by Lacy Howard allowed the Gators to avoid a second straight shutout.

The win puts LSU another step closer to an NCAA bid. The Tigers, who made the College World Series last year, came into the tournament looking like a team that needed to help itself. The win over Florida is a big plus and if the Tigers could squeeze out a win against Auburn (49-15) Saturday morning, it would likely end all speculation.

"To be honest with you because of the season we have had we look at it pitch by pitch," said Girouard. "We're just trying to get into the tournament."

Florida, because of its 40-plus wins, is certain to make the NCAA Tournament field, but Girouard gave the Gators some hope for hosting a regional.

"You do have some of the finest facilities in the country in the SEC," she said. "I do know that only 23 schools bid and there are only 16 sites so the SEC should be very well represented."

Florida has bid to host a regional. The Gators will know Sunday night if they will be a host next weekend or traveling to play.

In other action in the SEC Tournament on Friday, the two top seeded teams remained unbeaten. Number one Georgia rallied to beat Tennessee, 5-4, and two seed Alabama overpowered Auburn, 9-5. In an elimination game, Mississippi State sent South Carolina packing with a 4-1 win.

Saturday, Mississippi State and Tennessee will meet in one elimination game while Auburn will face LSU in another. The winner of Mississippi State and Tennessee will face Alabama while the Auburn-LSU winner will face Georgia.

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