Gators Earn Sweep Of USC In Softball

The Florida Gators softball team (41-22, 17-13 SEC), led by outstanding pitching, completed a three-game sweep of South Carolina (28-30, 8-21) in the final SEC weekend of the regular season at the Florida Softball Stadium. It was a significant series for the Gators because they recorded the 400th win in school history and clinched the fifth seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament.

Florida won a doubleheader against the Gamecocks Saturday, winning 5-2 and 3-2, then the Gators completed the sweep on Sunday with a 6-1 win that ended South Carolina's chances of making the SEC Tournament.

Florida jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning of game one when Kristen Butler smashed her 17th home run of the season down the left field line, scoring Lindsey Cameron ahead of her. Florida got another run in the inning when Melissa Zick reached second base on an error and then scored on an error of a hard grounder to shortstop by Lacy Howard.

Florida Coach Tim Walton said the Gators took the pressure off themselves by bolting to the early lead.

"Getting an early lead like that really allows our hitters to relax a little bit and kind of get into the flow of the game and be themselves as opposed to looking at the scoreboard," Walton said.

Stacey Stevens, who pitched game one for the Gators, wasn't feeling particularly well so getting an early lead helped her to focus in on shutting down the Gamecocks the rest of the way.

"On days when you're not feeling 100 percent like today when I was out there, it's so good to know that my teams coming out and scoring runs for me right away," Stevens said.

South Carolina answered with its only two runs of the game in the second inning. The Gamecocks had the bases loaded with two out when Jessica Josker reached base on a questionable call that looked like interference by the base runner. While the Gators were waiting on the call at first base, Jacqueline Wetherbee and Lisa Longo both crossed home plate.

In the bottom of the inning Florida's Brooke Johnson was walked and Cameron was hit by a pitch. Butler got her third RBI of the game with a sacrifice fly that scored Johnson to make the score 4-2.

The Gators got their final run in the third when Johnson's sacrifice fly drove home Zick.

Stevens went the distance to earn the win for the Gators, allowing seven hits and striking out four.

"The name of the game is defense and for us when out defense is solid and pitching is good, then we're gonna win games," Stevens said. "We wanted a couple more plays there, we wanted a shutout but we'll take the win."

In game two, Zick singled home Cameron with the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh. That win secured the fifth seed in the SEC Tournament for the Gators. Cameron started the game-winning rally with a single and she advanced to second one out later on a single by Lauren Rousell. The game-winning hit was Zick's second of the game.

Florida had several missed opportunities to put the game away but the Gators stayed in the game thanks to freshman Stacey Nelson, who tied a career high with nine strikeouts while earning her 13th win of the season.

"Stacey [Nelson] is amazing," teammate Stacey Stevens said. "She's striking out two and three an inning and she just kept her composure … she pitched great, she did really well."

South Carolina got off to a fast start. Josker led off the game by singling and stealing second. After two strikeouts by Nelson, Christie Hamilton singled to drive in Josker for a 1-0 South Carolina lead.

Nelson struck out five of the next six batters before the Gators evened things at 1-1 in the third. Kim Waleszonia walked, went to third on a throwing error and scored on a Zick single to tie the game.

South Carolina battled back into the lead in the fourth quickly grabbed the lead back in the fourth inning 2-1 when Hamilton scored when Waleszonia lost a pop fly in the sun.

Florida tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth. Roussell got the Gators going with a double to left center. Alicia Spack came in to run for Roussell. Spack moved to third on a fly out by Zick and then scored on a double by Lacy Howard.

After playing mistake free ball in the first game the Gators struggled in game two with several mental errors. At one point the Gators had two consecutive runners picked off. Florida also only managed three runs on 11 hits.

"We gotta definitely improve on making better decisions, not only running the bases but in the infield too in some cases," Walton said.

Sunday, the Gators played their best game of the weekend, putting the offense and defense together to score an efficient six runs on nine hits to win the game 6-1 for the sweep.

"The team played well," Walton said. "They came in and executed the game plan and stuck with it, played good defense, got great pitching, then we found a way to get a hit when we had runners in scoring position."

Stacey Stevens pitched her second complete game of the weekend, allowing only three hits and striking out four as she improved her record to 19-6.

Florida got the only runs it needed to win the game in the third inning when the Gators struck for three. Johnson started off the inning with a base hit up the middle and then stole her fifth base of the season. After a hit by Stacie Pestrak, Waleszonia doubled to score Johnson with the first run of the game. Cameron followed with a hard single past the shortstop to score Pestrak and Waleszonia.

South Carolina head coach Joyce Compton was thrown out of the game in the fifth inning after arguing a stolen base call. She watched the remainder of the game from behind the center field wall.

The Gamecocks got their only run of the game in the sixth when Ashley Smith doubled home Hamilton.

In their half of the sixth, the scored three runs after loading the bases. A walk to pinch-hitter Mary Ratliff, a single by Waleszonia and a walk to Roussell drove home the runs to complete Florida's scoring.

The Gators finish the regular season Tuesday against Stetson at 5 p.m. at the Florida Softball Stadium.

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