Friday, May 13, 2016

UF Softball: #1 Florida Advances to SEC Semifinals

For the second consecutive season, the No.1 seeded Florida Gators (53-4, 20-4 in SEC play) have reached the SEC Tournament Semifinals after defeating the No. 9 seeded Ole Miss Rebels (39-20, 11-13 in SEC play) by a score of 1-0 last night.

Freshman Kelly Barnhill (15-1, 1.26 ERA) got her first taste of postseason action as she tossed 4.1 innings of one-hit ball while striking out six and walking two. She would be pulled for Aleshia Ocasio in the top of the fifth inning.

Once Ocasio entered, it was much of the same for Florida. The sophomore threw 2.2 innings of no-hit relief while striking out six and walking just one.

Florida's pitching staff did its job, but the offense was stymied as the Gators left nine runners on base. Not one player had an RBI tonight. Instead, the Gators caught a break in the bottom of the fifth.

Senior Kelsey Stewart led off the inning with a double, then advanced to third base on an error by Rebel center fielder Miranda Strother. The succeeding batters in freshman Amanda Lorenz and sophomore Kayli Kvistad were walked, bringing up Kirsti Merritt with the bases loaded. Unfortunatley the senior could not get the job done, as she struck out swinging for the inning's first out.

Next up was sophomore Nicole DeWitt, who has a knack for postseason heroics. However, DeWitt would not have to do anything as Rebel catcher Courtney Syrett allowed a passed ball. Stewart would score from third, and the Gators had gotten all the run support that they needed.

Stewart (1-4) was one of three Gators with a hit today. Her double was also the only extra base hit of the night, as sophomore Janell Wheaton (1-3) singled and junior Justine McLean (2-2) notched a pair of singles.

Final Takeaway:
With this win, the No.1 Florida Gators will now turn their attention to the winner of the Auburn/Alabama game. Due to the weather, the softball edition of the Iron Bowl had to be postponed until 11 a.m. on Friday.

Before previewing the semifinal, here are my final tidbits from the Gators' thrilling quarterfinal victory:

  • The game was five hours and eight minutes long and finished a little before 9:45 p.m. because of two rain delays in the top of the third inning.
  • The Gators walked six times in the contest!
  • Speaking of six, the Gators have now won six straight games over Ole Miss (outscoring the Rebels 37-6 in that span)!
  • The only Ole Miss player to record a hit was freshman outfielder Kylan Becker. She singled to leadoff the top of the fifth inning.

Regardless of who wins between Auburn (46-9, 16-7 in SEC play) and Alabama (46-11, 16-8 in SEC play), Florida will have the advantage for two reasons. First, the Gators are the best team in the country. Second, the Gators have a fresh squad going up against an opponent who will be fatigued to some degree. If these hold true, Florida should find themselves in the SEC Championship with a fourth tournament title in sight.

Looking at matchups, the Gators went 2-1 against Auburn and 1-2 against Alabama during the regular season. Game time for the semifinal is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 13th, and it can be seen on ESPNU.

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