SOFTBALL: Gators Extend Win Streak To 5 Games

The Florida Gators got off to a great start in the GRU Classic Friday evening, taking a 3-1 win over Penn State and following that up with a 13-3 thrashing of Longwood. The Gators will continue play in the tournament Saturday with a 1:30 game against College World Series participant DePaul and a 4 p.m. game against defending NCAA champion Michigan.

The Gators improved their record to 5-3. They've won five games in a row since a rocky start last weekend in the Wilson/DeMarini Invitational in Houston. This is a young Florida team and it's only fitting that the team is coached by the youngest coach of a Florida athletic team in 33-year-old Tim Walton. Walton came to Florida from Wichita State where his teams were known for playing fundamentally sound softball and hitting plenty of home runs. He has a fresh, energetic approach which has caught on well with this very young team. .

"We're 18, 19 and 20 years old in most cases," Walton said Friday night. "A couple of them are 21. We're fresh, we're excited."

Florida's win over Penn State was a pitching duel won by freshman Stacey Nelson who improved her record to 2-1. Nelson struck out the first three batters she faced and then finished the game by striking out the last two to preserve the win. She allowed four hits and struck out seven.

Florida was staked to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when senior Lindsey Cameron led off with a base hit over the shortstop's head. Cameron stole second and was bunted to third by Kristen Butler. Melissa Zick roped a shot to left field that scored Cameron with the game's first run.

Nelson cruised along until the fifth inning when she gave up a run but pitched her way out of a jam. Nelson hit Katie Stauffer in the knee and Jen Williams followed by chopping a bouncer to third. When Brooke Johnson's throw to first sailed, Stauffer advanced all the way to third. Jen Acunto lined a single to left field to drive home Stauffer and Megan Wolfer walked to load the bases. Nelson worked her way out of trouble, however, by coaxing a harmless grounder for the final out of the inning.

Florida answered in the sixth inning with the game-winning rally. With Cameron on third and Butler on second, freshman Kim Waleszonia drilled a line drive to center field that Leigh Murray dived for and barely missed. The ball sailed all the way to the wall as Cameron and Butler rounded the bases to score, putting the Gators ahead, 3-1.

That was all Nelson needed to finish out the game strong to seal the win for the Gators. As a freshman, Nelson says the transition from high school to the collegiate level has been a great learning experience.

"College is definitely a lot different than high school," she said. "Girls are much more aggressive. Pitches have to be a lot harder and have more movement. It's been fun."

Walton was pleased with the way his team fought off a Penn State rally and then responded with a game-winning rally of their own. He thought the elation of the win in the first game carried over into game two.

"You're talking about a game of emotion, and if you can come off of a good win, you're going to snowball into the next game," he said. "I think it can also snowball into the other direction."

Whereas game one was dominated by pitching and defense, game two against Longwood was dominated by the Florida bats. Kristen Butler got the Gators started in the third inning with a three-run home run off the scoreboard in left field. It was her fourth homer of the season, tying her with Cameron for the team lead.

Florida jumped all over Longwood pitcher Tori Flint in the fourth inning. By the time the inning ended with a merciful ground out, Florida had plated eight runs for an 11-0 lead. With Waleszonia on first, Lindsay Norfleet reached on an infield single. Waleszonia and Norfleet pulled off a double steal and Shelley Stevens followed with a check-swing bouncer that brought home Waleszonia. Johnson hammered a two-run double and after a walk to Butler, Zick poked a floater into right field, scoring Stevens and advancing Butler to third. Lacey Howard then ripped a double down the third base line that scored Butler from third. In her second at bat of the inning, Waleszonia smacked a single through the gap at first to drive in Zick. Laura Templeton finished off the inning with a bloop single over the second baseman's head to score Howard.

Florida added two more runs in the fifth inning. Longwood countered with three runs in its half of the fifth but Lisa Hasson came on to relieve starter Stacey Stevens to end the rally and the game, which ended because of the 8-run mercy rule.

Walton was pleased the way the Gators played defense Friday. Improved defense has been a key to Florida's five-game winning streak along with some timely hitting.

"We're making less errors." Walton said. "I think that's probably the big difference. We haven't really changed anything. Same swings, same approach. As a matter of fact, we've done everything the exact same.

"We're just really working hard and trying to figure out how we can put together some clutch at bats. And I think that Kim Waleszonia's at bat in the first game was a clutch at bat. Melissa Zick getting a clutch base hit early in the game, too, with a runner on third and one out. Those are the things we have to do a much better job of --- scoring runs."

Saturday opponent DePaul went 1-1 in its two games Friday while Michigan went 2-0 including a win over DePaul.

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