The Gators’ top ranked softball team had exponentially more trouble winning their last game in the Gainesville Regional than they did in their first two games.
Doesn’t matter how ugly the regional final win over Florida Atlantic was, though. It still counts the same.
Next up for the Gators: their eighth trip to the Super Regionals in the last nine years. History favors Florida to advance beyond the Super Regional stage, too- the Gators have won six of the previous seven they’ve played in. For the first time ever, though, they’ll face a fellow SEC team in this stage in Kentucky, beginning Saturday at 1, then Sunday at noon and if the teams split, the third game will be right after the second game on Sunday afternoon. Florida swept the Cats earlier this year, but none of the wins were particularly easy; Florida won the three games by 1-0, 6-3 and 2-0 scores.
As if to prepare themselves, the Gators punched their ticket to the rematch with one of the grittiest performances of the year.
Florida won its first two games of the Regional over FAMU (6-0) and Hofstra (7-0) with relative ease. But UF really had trouble figuring out FAU pitcher Amanda Wilson in the front end of the Regional final, who used a nasty off speed pitch to fool Gator hitters for seven innings. Luckily, Lauren Haeger similarly shut down the Owls, and both teams traded zeroes through the first seven innings. Zero didn’t really come close to describing both teams’ frustrations at the plate, either; the teams combined for four hits through the first seven innings, and two of them were ground balls that found holes.
Then came the decisive eighth inning.
Florida’s Kirsti Merritt reached base on a fielder’s choice, and then Haeger- the dominant pitcher who also holds the SEC record for career home runs- hit what turned out to be the game winner to right center. Haeger then returned to the mound and mowed the Owls down in order, coaxing a flyout to short center field.
End of game.
End of Regional.
But just the beginning of their defense of the national championship.