Softball closes in on SEC crown


Florida's Lauren Haeger hits against Alabama on Friday night in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Robert Sutton/Tuscaloosa News).

Published: Friday, May 4, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 12:26 a.m.

TUSCALOOSA — The Florida Gators got the insurance they needed, and are now one win away from a share of the Southeastern Conference softball championship.

Facts

Saturday's game

Who: Florida at Alabama
When: 4 p.m.
TV: ESPN2
Gainesville-area radio: 104.9 FM

Sixth-ranked Florida turned on its offense in the top of the seventh for a three-run outburst to take a 4-1 victory over No. 3 Alabama on Friday night at Rhoads Stadium to take the opening game of the three-game weekend series in front of a crowd of 3,248.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead from the first inning through the sixth, the Gators broke through in the top of the seventh. Florida loaded the bases on a leadoff walk, a single up the middle by outfielder Kasey Fagan and a hit batter.

Alabama's defense held for a bit, with Alabama pitcher Jackie Traina throwing out one runner at home on a fielder's choice and first baseman Cassie Reilly-Boccia gunning down another with an underhanded throw on Michelle Moultrie's surprise bases-leaded bunt.

With two outs, third baseman Sami Fagan hit a high-chopping infield single to plate a run, and freshman Lauren Haeger roped a single up the middle to bring in two more runs, upping Florida's lead to 4-1.

“Obviously we're trying to scrap in one run to start the game and then trying to figure out a way to get another one later on,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “To get a first ‘W' (in the series), you obviously feel good about winning today, but I don't ever feel good coming into Tuscaloosa or playing Alabama in any series until it's over. Taking the first one makes it a lot easier to take the second one, but we've got a lot of work to do.”

The insurance proved valuable, as Traina hit a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the seventh for Alabama. Florida ace Hannah Rogers (26-4) settled back in to retire the next three batters in order to preserve the victory.

Up until the final inning, Florida held onto a slight edge in a dual between the top sophomore aces in the SEC. Rogers (26-4) held Alabama hitless into the sixth inning, allowing three hits with seven strikeouts and three walks.

“She threw the ball well, threw a lot of different pitches,” Walton said. “I think she probably threw five or six different pitches for strikes, and that was pretty important.”

Traina (29-2) kept the Crimson Tide in it despite three early errors behind her in the field. She gave up three earned runs on six hits with nine strikeouts and a pair of walks.

Florida caught Alabama flat-footed to take the early lead. Sami Fagan beat out an infield single to shortstop with one out, and Haeger reached on an error. Fagan stole third to give the Gators runners on the corners. Walton called for a two-out double-steal, and the Crimson Tide bit. Catcher Kendall Dawson threw to shortstop Kaila Hunt, who covered second to cut off Haeger's steal attempt. Fagan came home on Dawson's throw, and Hunt's errant throw home to try to catch Fagan allowed Haegar to turn around and get to second.

Alabama had a chance to strike back in the bottom of the second, with Rogers walking three batters. She put two runners on base with no outs and loaded the bases with two outs, but Rogers got all three outs by strikeout to put out the fire.

Florida (44-8, 21-5 SEC) can win the SEC regular-season title outright with a sweep, and will share the championship with Alabama (45-6, 21-5 SEC) and Tennessee with one more win this weekend.

The teams will play today at 4 p.m.

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