Gators unable to outlast Kentucky's ace hurler
Published: Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 30, 2012 at 12:22 a.m.
The Florida Gators were probably very happy to see Kentucky's Chanda Bell leave town.
For the second time in a 48-hour period, the Wildcats' senior right-hander had the second-ranked Gators' number, tossing her second complete-game victory of the weekend and matching her season-high with 13 strikeouts in a 5-1, series-clinching win over UF Sunday before a Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium crowd of 1,058.
The weekend's impressive line for Bell: one earned run and 21 strikeouts in 14 innings of work.
Although she was touched for seven hits Sunday – almost twice as many as the four she allowed in a 2-0 shutout in the series opener Friday – Bell (14-10) kept UF batters off balance, striking out the side in three of the first four innings.
“Chanda was exceptional, both Friday and today,” Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson said. “She's been pitching that well for about the last three weeks, and it's been really awesome to see because she's reached a new level with her game.”
“They've got a good pitching staff, and good pitching staffs win ball games,” UF head coach Tim Walton said. “That was just a good pitcher who was flat-out dealing.”
The Wildcats (26-27, 12-13) jumped in front 1-0 on junior Kara Dill's RBI single in the top of the third off UF sophomore starter Hannah Rogers, but the Gators (43-8, 20-5) got the equalizer in the bottom of the fifth on freshman Lauren Haeger's bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
The next inning proved to be the difference. It started innocently enough as Haeger, who replaced Rogers in the circle in the fifth, sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a walk.
But UK's No. 9 hitter, Alice O'Brien, stroked a single to put runners on the corners and keep the inning alive. That brought senior Brittany Cervantes to the plate, and she slapped a run-scoring single off the glove of a diving Katie Medina, UF's freshman second baseman, that scored the go-ahead run.
A walk to Dill loaded the bases, and designated player Rachel Riley provided the nail in the coffin with a bases-clearing, three-run double to the left field corner to make it 5-1.
O'Brien (3-for-3) and Dill (2-for-3) led a nine-hit Kentucky attack, while junior catcher Kelsey Horton (2-for-3) paced UF.
“Every win is a good win,” Lawson said. “We're fighting for our postseason lives. We've had a lot of good wins, but our record is kind of a middle of the road thing. We've got to put out another good weekend next weekend (against LSU), but this was awesome for us.
“Florida's such a good program; one of the best, if not the best, in the country. So for us to come into their home and play as well as we did is a real tribute to how hard our team has worked.”
Haeger (13-4) took the loss, giving up four runs, all earned, on four hits over the final three innings in relief of Rogers, who allowed five hits and an unearned run through the first four innings. With the upset, the Wildcats became the first team in nine tries to win a league series against UF this season.
The loss also dropped Florida a game behind No. 4 Alabama (45-5, 21-4), a 5-1 winner over Arkansas, in the overall SEC race. The Gators finish the regular season with a big three-game series beginning Friday against the two-time defending league champs in Tuscaloosa.
“Obviously we've still got a dogfight of a race going on, so it should be a good series,” Walton said. “It's obviously unfortunate that we couldn't take this one here and keep ourselves in control of our own fate, but again, give Kentucky credit. Their pitchers did a good job.”