Gators Inch Closer to College World Series

The top-seeded University of Florida Softball team won its first Super Regional game on Friday afternoon with a 4-2 victory over the California Bears.

While the Bears tallied more hits than the Gators, the Gators were also able to capitalize on six walks and three Cal errors.

Sophomore Francesca Enea led the Gator bats with a 2-for-2 performance at the plate. Her double in the first inning was the only extra base hit of the game. She also tallied two RBI, a walk and was hit by a pitch. Junior Ali Gardiner also had two hits on the day as she went 2-for-4 with a RBI. Despite Florida's timely hitting, they did leave 10 runners on base in the game.

"We are proud to come out with a win in the first game of the Super Regional today," Florida Head Coach Tim Walton said. "Overall, I am proud of our team's performance. We are in no way close to being done, so I challenged my team to come out better tomorrow. We can't leave as many runners on base as we did today. We're going to have to do a great job and come out prepared tomorrow."

Florida got on the board first in the third inning. With one out, freshman Aja Paculba beat out an infield single. She stole second for her 16th stolen base of the season. An Enea base hit to center field scored Paculba from second for the 1-0 lead.

The Gators added their final three runs in a productive fourth. Senior Mary Ratliff led off the inning with a walk. With one out, junior Kristina Hilberth reached on a Cal error. Sophomore Corrie Brooks drew the second walk of the inning to load the bases. An easy ground ball back to Cal pitcher Marissa Drewrey by Florida junior Kim Waleszonia allowed Drewrey to throw Ratliff out at the plate as Waleszonia reached on the fielder's choice, leaving the bases still loaded with two outs in the inning. Paculba walked to bring in Hilberth and put the Gators up by two. Gardiner drove a base hit through the left side to bring in Brooks for the 3-0 lead. Enea was hit by a pitch with the bases still loaded to bring in Waleszonia for the fourth and final Gator run of the game.

The Bears got on the board in the top of the fifth and narrowed Florida's lead to 4-1. Vernae Sevilla led of with a base hit deep in the infield to Florida freshman short stop Megan Bush. Savannah Hensley entered the game to run for Sevilla. Julie Meyer added a second base hit to move Hensley into scoring position. With one out, Valerie Arioto, who finished the game with a 3-for-4 performance and earned both of Cal's RBI, knocked a base hit through the left side to score Hensley. Meyer advanced to third on the play and Arioto stole second on the next at bat. After a Lauren Bauer line out, Gina Leomiti was hit by a pitch from Florida junior hurler Stacey Nelson to load the bases with two out. Nelson would make up for her mistake though as she struck out Bernice Masaniai to end the inning.

Cal added another run in the top of the sixth to cut the Gator lead to just two runs. Katie Vickers led off with a base hit to right center. Sanoe Kekahuna reached on a Gator error. Sevilla reached on a fielder's choice as the Gator defense took out Vickers at third for the first out of the inning. Meyer, the second Cal player with multiple hits on the game, singled through the left side to load the bases. Shannon Houston struck out looking for the second out of the inning, but Arioto's bat would strike again, this time for a single up the middle to bring home Kekahuna for the 4-2 score. Nelson ended the threat there as she caught Erika Racklin looking to end the inning.

Though Nelson got in some tough situations in the game, her defense stood behind her as she was able to make the outs necessary to ensure the win.

"Stacey is a tough pitcher," Enea said. "I know she is going to pitch through those situations. confidence to play behind her."

Nelson gave up nine hits to Cal in the game, the most she had given up in a game all season, but she also tallied 10 strikeouts for her ninth double digit strikeout performance this season. Her record improved to 44-3 on the season. After giving up a hit to lead off the game, she retired nine straight Cal batters before giving up a lead off walk on the top of the fourth. Of the two runs she gave up, only one was earned.

Drewrey pitched the first four innings in the loss for Cal. Her record now drops to 29-18. Like Nelson, only one of the runs she gave up on the day was earned. She struck out four Gator batters and also walked four. Arioto came in for the final two innings and gave up only one hit, while walking two batters and striking out three.

"This is where we were a year ago," Gardiner said, "except we were on the opposite side. "We're happy to come out with a win today, but we weren't really impressed with our infield play. There were plays we should have made. Cal is an excellent hitting team, but we know we can play better, we need to be sharper."

Florida will have that chance to be sharper on Saturday as the two teams faceoff in the second game of the Super Regional at noon. If a third game is necessary, it will be played 30 minutes following the end of the noon game. All Saturday Gainesville Super Regional games will air live on ESPN, but all fans in the Gainesville area are encouraged to come pack Pressly and support the Gators live. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children and seniors. Fans can bring lawn chairs and blankets to sit on the hills down the right field and left lines.

Courtesy UF Sports Information

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