LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 3/4 Florida softball team clinched its sixth SEC series of the season with a 6-3 victory against the No. 18/19 Kentucky Wildcats Sunday in Lexington at John Cropp Stadium, improving to 41-5 (14-4 SEC) on the season.
Freshman Taylor Schwarz (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) went a career-tying 3-for-3 in Saturday’s series finale with the Wildcats, connecting for a triple, homer, knocking in a team-best three RBI, while also scoring two of Florida’s six runs in the victory. UF put up nine hits, as six different Gator batters connected Sunday. Freshman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) continued her hot weekend with a 2-for-4 performance in the series finale.
The Florida freshman trio of Stewart, Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) and Schwarz led Florida at the plate through the weekend set against Kentucky, Stewart with a .545 clip (6-11), while Merritt and Schwarz both turned in 3-9 performances (.333). The Gators connected for a double, triple and four homers through the three-game series in Lexington.
With two wins over the ranked Wildcats, the Gators improved to 8-4 against top-25 opponents this season, using Friday’s 7-4 (.636) win and Sunday’s 6-3 victory to add two to the tally. Florida will return to John Cropp Stadium May 8-11 for the 2013 SEC Tournament, hosted by Kentucky.
The Gators scattered runs in four of seven innings Sunday, posting one in the first and sixth and two each in the second and third to top Kentucky.
A total effort from the Gators’ bullpen helped the Orange and Blue to the series win Sunday, as Florida used all three righties in its arsenal to hold off Kentucky. Junior ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) earned the start in the circle for the Gators in Sunday’s rubber match, while sophomore Alyssa Bache (Clearwater, Fla.) came on in relief in the bottom of the fourth for 2.1 innings of work to pick up the win (7-0). Sophomore Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) worked the final 1.2 innings to pick up her second save of the season.
Florida faced both Lauren Cumbess (8-5) and Kelsey Nunley, Cumbess for the first 2.1 innings, before Nunley closed out the final 4.2 for UK. The Gators struck out just twice Sunday, its least amount of Ks in conference play and the least since three against Ole Miss March 31.
Haeger started the game out offensively for UF, sending a one-out RBI single up the middle to plate freshman Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) in the top of the first. Stewart sent a base hit to left to set things up for Haeger’s 48th RBI of the season.
A Griffin Joiner RBI double in the home half of the frame for Kentucky knotted things up at 1-1 between the Gators and Wildcats heading to the second, where Florida put up a two-spot, using three hits in the inning. Schwarz went yard with her fifth homer of the season, a solo shot, to lead off the frame for the Orange and Blue.
Next up, freshman Taylore Fuller (Trenton, Fla.) connected for a base hit to left field and sophomore Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) dropped a sacrifice bunt to move her to second. With two outs on the board, freshman Kirsti Merritt (Lake Panasoffkee, Fla.) sent a single through the right side to bring Fuller across home for the 3-1 Gator advantage heading to the third.
UF didn’t back down, adding two runs on two hits, as Schwarz connected for her second hit of the day, a two-RBI success down the left-field line. Sophomore Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.) drew a one-out walk and junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) sent a bouncer through the right side to put both in scoring position for Schwarz’s 20th and 21st RBI of the season and the 5-1 Gator lead, while also chasing Cumbess from the circle in favor of Nunley.
Kentucky was resilient, battling back with a two-run third frame for a 5-3 differential, still in favor of the Gators. Christian Stokes sent a double to right center, but was erased at second on a Joiner fielder’s choice. Next up, Cumbess, playing first base, sent a two-run homer to right center to bridge the gap and bring the Wildcats within two runs.
Florida opted to trade Rogers for Bache in the circle in the bottom of the fourth, and the sophomore righty was effective, holding the Wildcats scoreless in both the fourth and fifth innings.
Schwarz continued her stellar afternoon, leading off the top of the sixth with her first career triple, while Stewart used her speed to beat out a two-out infield single to plate Schwarz for the 6-3 Gator lead.
With Kentucky threatening in the bottom of the sixth with a runner on third and one out, the Gators brought in Haeger in the circle to finish things out for the Orange and Blue and Bache. A fielder’s choice with a play at the plate prevented UK from scoring, while also putting up the second out of the inning. With bases loaded after a walk, Haeger then forced Stokes to fly out to Merritt in center to hold off and strand three Wildcats.
Haeger sat down the side in the bottom of the seventh, including a strikeout for the final out of the game, to preserve the UF victory.