Freshmen lift UF softball over USC

Florida Gators pitcher Lauren Haeger, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, allowed just four hits and struck out four batters.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/File photo
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 12:05 a.m.

The more they play, the more impact Florida's highly touted freshmen are having for the 2012 Gators.

Freshman starting pitcher Lauren Haeger tossed five-plus innings of shutout ball and freshman designated hitter Bailey Castro had the game-winning hit on a two-out, third-inning RBI single that plated fellow freshman Sami Fagan with the game's only run, enabling fourth-ranked UF to defeat South Carolina 1-0 Saturday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Six of the seven freshmen who comprised the nation's No. 1 recruiting class started for the Gators (25-2, 6-1), who clinched their third consecutive SEC series in front of a St. Patrick's Day crowd of 1,080. In addition to Haeger, Castro and Fagan (third base), Katie Medina and Jess Damico started at shortstop and second base, respectively, while Brianna Little started in left field.

“They're really good and do a lot of nice things defensively,” head coach Tim Walton said. “Offensively they're still a work in progress. It's just confidence and just coming into their roles. They're not looking over their shoulders wondering if they're going to play or hit and all that.

“They're working hard, and I can't be more pleased with the group as far as their work ethic goes. It's just a matter of having success and then sustaining that success.”

Haeger, the reigning SEC Player of the Week who was pitching with her family from Peoria, Ariz., in attendance, allowed just four hits and struck out four batters before giving way to sophomore Hannah Rogers after the Gamecocks (19-11, 2-5) put runners on first and second with nobody out in the sixth.

After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position, South Carolina tried a squeeze play with clean-up hitter Evan Childs at bat. But she missed the pitch, resulting in Chelsea Hawkins, who led off the inning with a single and was at third, getting caught in a rundown and eventually being tagged out by Fagan.

Rogers then struck out Childs swinging on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat and retired the Gamecocks in the seventh to earn her second save of the season.

Haeger, who finished the game at first base, picked up the win to improve to 8-1 while South Carolina starter Audrey Broyles (5-3) took the loss despite tossing a three-hit complete game.

“I felt good,” Haeger said. “I knew I had to keep them off base and get ahead. That's been my goal for quite sometime is just get ahead, get ahead, and I think I did a pretty good job of that today.”

“I wanted Lauren to finish that game,” Walton said. “She was throwing the ball well and throwing the ball hard. At the end of the day, I just wanted to change up the look.”

The Gamecocks walked Haeger intentionally to get to Castro in the third, and Castro made them pay by lining Broyles' second pitch down the left field line, easily scoring the speedy Fagan from second.

Walton is hoping Castro, who is coming off a leg injury suffered late in the fall and blasted a three-run homer in Friday's win, can help fill the void created by the loss of junior All-America slugger Brittany Schutte, who has been sidelined with a broken jaw since March 2.

“The key is off the injury,” Walton said. “We have high expectations and hopes for Bailey, but obviously she hasn't had the chance to live up to those yet because she's been hurt. It's very exciting to see her out there driving runs in.”

“I felt confident up there and I was happy they were going to pitch to me,” Castro said. “I just came through with a good swing.”

The two teams close out the series today at 1 p.m.

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