It’s a feel thing for Tim Walton.
He starts the game with defensive whiz Alex Voss in the outfield and then when he feels like a bigger bat is needed, enter Jaimie Hoover.
It couldn’t have worked out much better than it did Friday night.
Hoover knocked in five runs and two Florida pitchers combined on the team’s ninth no-hitter of the season as the Gators (51-8) opened Gainesville Regional play with an 8-0 six-inning win over Bethune-Cookman (31-25) as 1,950 watched at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
“It’s like I’m starting 10 people,” Walton said. “With Jaimie, she knows she’s coming in.”
Hoover entered the game at the plate in the bottom of the second inning with two on and two out and announced her presence with authority. She drilled her fourth homer of the year to dead-center field to give the Gators 3-0 lead.
“I was so excited,” she said of the homer. “I knew it was out. I just had to stay focused and stay confident up there. I always try to be prepared.”
Her Boy Scout attitude paid off again an inning later when she lined a single to center with two outs and the bases loaded to make it 5-0.
“It was really awesome to watch,” said UF starter Kelly Barnhill.
By the time Nicole DeWitt ended the game early with her 14th home run of the year — a two-run shot — in the bottom of the sixth inning, Barnhill had departed. After a layoff of almost a week since the SEC Tournament, Walton went into the game knowing he would use both of his star pitchers.
Barnhill threw 52 pitches in the game, Ocasio 25.
“I didn’t want to go to long with Kelly,” he said, “or go too long with getting Aleshia (Ocasio) out there on the rubber.”
Barnhill allowed only two fair balls in her four innings of work, striking out 10 including nine in a row during one stretch. Her four-pitch walk to Bethune slugger Ryan Jackson was the only base runner Barnhill (27-1) allowed.
“The offense was super disappointing,” said Bethune coach Laura Watton. “We didn’t put any pressure on the defense. We were just swinging like crazy.”
It didn’t get better against Ocasio, who pitched two perfect innings and struck out four of the six batters she faced. Florida has now only allowed one earned run in its last 107 innings of regional play
“We had our good stuff,” Barnhill said of the two pitchers.
The second-seeded Gators will face Ohio State today at 2:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to the championship game on Sunday.
The Buckeyes (36-14) broke open a scoreless tie on a three-run double by pinch-hitter Taylor Stevens in the bottom of the sixth, to beat South Florida 3-1.
USF (38-23) scored a run in the seventh but Ohio State’s Shelby McCombs allowed only two hits to get the win despite walking seven. USF and Bethune play an elimination game today at approximately 5 p.m.
Friday’s Florida-Bethune game was delayed for 47 minutes by weather as lightning was spotted in the area. But it didn’t faze Barnhill, who came back from the delay to strike out the first two batters she faced.
“Sometimes it feels like our hitters are batting for 47 minutes anyway,” she said.
NCAA Gainesville Regional
at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium
Ohio State 3, South Florida 1
Florida 8, Bethune-Cookman 0
Game 3 — Florida (51-8) vs. Ohio State (35-14), 2:30 p.m.
Game 4 — South Florida (34-15) vs. Bethune-Cookman (31-25), 5 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 12 p.m.
x-Game 7 — Game 6 opponents, 2:30 p.m.