The third time turned out to be the charm for the Gators who hosted Regional tournaments in the last two years only to be ousted before the final day both time. Those negative memories were erased in front of a raucous crowd Sunday afternoon when the Gators scored three ninth-inning runs to finally put away the Longhorns. Florida is essentially a young team, but it was the veterans who came through at the plate to earn the win.
Melissa Zick was the hitting hero with an RBI triple that scored fellow senior Lauren Roussell with the game's first run. Ali Gardiner's bloop double brought in another and Lacy Howard, the third senior in the starting lineup put the game out of each with a double to center field. All that remained was for Stacey Nelson to handle Texas one more time, which she did with ease.
Fantastic Finish to Season
Florida didn't look like a team capable of reaching the Super Regional a month ago. I remember driving to Columbia, South Carolina to televise an April 24th doubleheader between the Gators and Gamecocks thinking the Gators really couldn't afford to get swept. Florida was 37-and-18, but just 10-and-10 in the SEC and was not even assured of qualifying for the SEC Tournament. They swept South Carolina that day with blowout wins of 8-0 and 10-0 and haven't looked back. Florida will enter the Super Regional with a school record 49 wins, including 16 wins in their last 19 games.
While the seniors did the job at the plate to beat Texas; the pitching of a sophomore is the biggest reason Florida is where it is. Stacey Nelson has broken the school record with 33 wins and has given up just one earned run in her last eight outings (48 1/3 innings). Nelson has broken just about every school record this season except for strikeouts where her total of 273 is twelve shy of the mark. The shutout of Texas was her 14th of the year.
Second year Head Coach Tim Walton has led the Gators to 92 wins and with Nelson for two more seasons, there are many more still to come. After the win over Texas, Walton talked about reaching the super Regional.
Walton --- "This was an awesome tournament. We had a great run. I thought, obviously our pitching was phenomenal. Stacey did a great job. She's in one of those "zones" you talk about. She really did a good job of limiting her pitches today. She really got ahead and put away hitters early. I have to also give credit to our defense making great plays all the way around. We talked all season our goals and our goals were really to not concentrate on the individual statistics but really work hard at finding a way to get things done. Melissa came up with as big of a hit as we've had in this program's history. I'm really proud of the way the kids handled themselves the whole game. This is un-chartered waters for us and I thought we were a little bit nervous. Their pitching staff obviously did a great job keeping us off balance, but overall we found a way to get it done.
The Gators are assured of no worse than a tie for ninth in the NCAA Tournament, which will be the school's highest finish ever. Details on the Texas A&M series in the days ahead as the two teams will meet for a best-two of three series for a spot in the College World Series.