Gators Sweep Cal; Off to WCWS

Dominating pitching by Stacey Nelson and the big bat of Aja Paculba led the No. 1 Gators to win both games of a double header against No. 14 Cal on Saturday (2-0) and (2-1). Nelson pitched a complete game one, and then came in after a lead-off double in the third inning of game two to throw five scoreless innings. Paculba homered in game one and had a two RBI double in game two to pace Florida.

It will mark the second time in the team's history and the second time in two years that the Gators will play in the Women's College World Series. A seasoned team, Florida seemed destine from early in the season to make another run at the championship. At 60-3 their record is as dominating as any you will find in any sport this season.

On this day, like so may others it started with senior Stacey Nelson at pitcher and her cast of characters on defense behind her. Nelson threw 13 strikeouts among the 27 batters she faced in game one. It started early for Nelson forced a long fly ball out on the first batter before striking out five of the next six she faced in game one. It was a change up that she continually used to keep the Cal batters off balance.

"I thought overall Stacey Nelson had the best stuff I've ever seen her have," Gator Head Coach Tim Walton said. " You look at the strikeouts and a pitch (change up) that you don't typically see her throwing."

Cal was never able to piece more than two hits in one inning and no extra base hits in the game as they amassed zero runs and four hits in game one.

That was all second baseman Aja Paculba needed to have the game winning hit on the first bat for Florida. After 14 pitches, a full count, and fouling several balls off, Paculba launched a shot over the left center field wall for the Gators to take the early and inevitable final lead of the game.

"What an at bat," Walton said. "I am so fired up for the way that kid fought and obviously giving us the momentum we needed, it was huge."

"I was just trying to get on base anyway I could," Paculba said when questioned about the monster shot. "As the at-bat went longer, I (told myself), 'I'm not getting out now.' Then when I hit it, I knew I hit it pretty hard,but I wasn't sure it was going over. I was glad it went over because I was watching it."

The Gators added a second run in the second inning when short stop Megan Bush hit a sharp single to right field to lead off the inning. The Gators played small ball to perfection adding two sacrifice bunts to get Bush to third base. Finally, a wild pitch by pitcher Marissa Drewrey allowed Bush to score for the last run of the game and the final 2-0 score.

Drewrey pitched well but was relieved in the sixth because of flu like symptoms by first baseman Valerie Arioto. Arioto only faced six batters in six tries as she was able to force the Gators to try and adjust to a new pitcher.

In game two, the defense had a couple of remarkable plays that helped Nelson catapult her record to 39-3. The Gators started Stephanie Brombacher who walked the first batter she faced and then with a throwing error from short stop Bush on a ground ball, the Golden Bears scored their only run of the two game series. Brombacher struck out the last batter of the inning and allowed one hit in the second before retiring the side.

With the Gators down 1-0, Bush led off the third inning and was hit by a pitch. Bush advanced to second on a wild pitch before Ami Austin switched for her on the base paths. Designated player Tiffany De'Felice then walked and the Gators had runners at first and second. A sacrifice bunt from Kim Waleszonia progressed the runners to second and third. That was all Paculba needed to finish off the day with the last two RBI. She nailed a double to left center that hit the wall and both Austin and DeFelice rounded the bases on home.

The score would remain 2-1 until the end, but after a lead off double to start the Cal third inning Gator Head Coach Tim Walton decided it was time to bring in his ace Nelson to finish the game. Nelson struck out the first two batters she faced and six total in game two. She had 19 strikeouts in 12 innings on the day and threw 128 strikes in 170 pitches in the two games.

"All the great ones have that ability, she just doesn't buckle under pressure, Walton said about bringing in nelson in a tough situation. "Actually in relief today, she was as good as she looked all year long. She came in and moved them down and that's why I brought her into the game. I was ready to make the change before the inning started, but after the hit it made my gut instinct (take over). It's nothing against Stephanie I just thought, we got a lead and weren't swinging the bats as well as we are used to and this might be all we're going to score. We can't give up any more runs. "

Cal first baseman and pitcher Valerie Arioto faced Nelson for 12 innings and knows how good she is.

"She's very unpredictable," Arioto said. "She will go in or out, a change up to keep you off balance...She did a great job of keeping us off the bases. We just tried to get around the bases as fast as we could because we knew we weren't going to get a million hits off of her. I think we battled pretty good."

Nelson used last season's series with Cal as a measuring stick in what to do this season.

"They scored four runs off me last year, so I knew I needed to show them something different this year so I just tried to use that pitch," Nelson said of the change up that she doesn't use often. "If I'm having a good day with a pitch I will probably use it more that day."

The Gators had a couple of very nice defensive plays in game two. Cal led off the sixth inning with two singles and runners on first and second. With no outs, Nelson forced a grounder to herself, quickly threw on to third for the force out of the lead runner and third baseman fired to first for the days only double play. Brooks had a shining day snagging several hard hit balls and making fine throws to first each time for the out.

Walton was excited to say the least.

"I got up and was fist pumping after that double play," he said. "I thought I was going to black out. It's just one of those feelings, you are just so fired up and amped up."

However, it was a slight miscue by Brooks that may have turned out to be the defensive play of the day by short stop Megan Bush. In the games last inning, a hard grounder bounced off Brooks' glove. Bush surprised to see the ball in a trajectory directly towards her, stabbed it out of the air and lasered a throw to first baseman Ali Gardner. Two outs later the Gators were Super Regional winners and heading to Oklahoma City to play for a chance at the Women's College World Series Championship.

The accomplishment is something that wills settle in this weekend and Walton knows he has a special group and a very special leader on the mound.

"On the way over here Stacey gave me a hug and asked," he said. "'Coach four years ago did you know we would be going back to our second College World Series?' I told her, 'Four years ago I didn't know you were going to be this good, thanks for being this good'. She's a competitor and loves to win and a very special, special,special individual."

It has been a lot of hard work and a 60-3 record is a testament to just how good this team is. The fact that they were the number one team in the country with a bulls eye on their back for most of the year, just shows how tough this team really is.

"It's really cool," Nelson said. "When we came into the fall we knew we were going to have a good team. We knew every team we played was going to try and beat us because we were rankled number one. It's really great to back to the world series since every one was gunning for us since game one....We've worked really hard and have a lot of talent, so it would have been a big disappointment if we didn't get to this point."

"I guaranteed at the beginning of the year that we wouldn't win 70 games, but here we are at 60-3 and playing pretty well," Walton said. "It says a lot about the kids I have. The expectations for this year are totally different, it's a different feeling and our kids represent what college athletics are all about.

And that competitor Nelson will enjoy it briefly before the reality of one last job to do takes over.

"It's tough to get to this point and we know it's tough," nelson said. "To finally be in the College World Series is a great feeling of accomplishment. At the same time, it's exciting because we know we have another tournament to play."

The Gators remain the No. 1 seed and will play No. 9 Arizona at 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. The game will be televised live on ESPN.

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