Gator softball advances to SEC final


Florida's Hannah Rogers pitches to Tennessee during Friday's SEC Tournament semifinal in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (The Tuscaloosa News, Michelle Lepianka Carter)

Published: Friday, May 11, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 11, 2012 at 9:23 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Florida Gators had trouble stringing together multiple hits in Friday's semifinal at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, so they found another way.

Facts

SEC Tournament

Florida 2, Tennessee 1, 8 inn.
Alabama 1, Georgia 0
Saturday's game: Florida vs. Alabama, 1 p.m., ESPN2/104.9 FM

Bailey Castro flexed her power-hitting muscles with a pinch-hit solo home run in the top of the eighth inning to give the Gators a 2-1 extra-inning win over fifth-ranked Tennessee at Rhoads Stadium. UF broke the nation's longest winning streak, halting Tennessee's string of wins at 19, to advance to Saturday's title game.

Florida (46-10) will play Alabama in the championship game, which has been moved to 1 p.m. ET due to a weather front expected to move into the area. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Castro, a freshman from Pembroke Pines, came into the game with five home runs on the season, none of them as a pinch hitter. When UF coach Tim Walton, who won his 500th career game on Friday, turned to her for a spark, she provided it in a big way. Castro battled UT starter Ivy Renfroe for six pitches, working the count full, then sent the seventh sailing over the fence in left-center for the game-deciding run.

"It was 0-2 and then I fought it back to 3-2," Castro said. "I think it was a curveball.

"You stay in the game the whole time. When I'm not playing and I'm on the bench, I'm watching batters and taking notes on what they are doing and the adjustments they are making to put it all into one at-bat."

Florida had a chance to increase the lead, with Sami Fagan hitting a one-out double and Cheyenne Coyle walking. The runners advanced to second and third on a wild pitch, but Michelle Moultrie flew out to center field and UT's Tory Lewis threw out Fagan at the plate when she tagged up.

It didn't matter, as freshman Lauren Haeger came on to pitch the final three outs.

"We had talked about postseason, what postseason means and what it's going to take to win games in the postseason," Walton said. "It's getting clutch hits, runners in scoring position, pinch-hit home runs."

Tennessee struck first, with some help from a lapse by Florida's defense. All-American third baseman Raven Chavanne led off the bottom of the first with a single through the left side of the infield and stole second base with one out. She moved to third base on an error when Katie Medina booted a routine grounder, and scored when Lauren Gibson grounded out, giving the Vols a 1-0 advantage.

Florida struck back in the third, taking advantage of a Tennessee miscue. Third baseman Fagan beat out an infield single with two outs, then moved into scoring position on a passed ball. Coyle's solid single up the middle brought Fagan home to tie it up 1-1.

Fagan went 4-for-4, accounting for all but two of her team's hits.

Tennessee took a chance to score the go-ahead run in the bottom of the third, Florida's defense snuffed it out. Ashley Andrews drew a leadoff bunt and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. UT coach Ralph Weekly waved Andrews around third on Kat Dotson's single to shallow center, but SEC Player of the Year Moultrie came up firing and threw her out at the plate by a step.

The Gators got a solid outing from pitcher Hannah Rogers (27-6), who scattered four hits with two strikeouts and two walks in seven innings.

Ivy Renfroe (19-7) took the loss for Tennessee, going 7 1/3 innings before sister Ellen Renfroe came on for the final two outs.

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