Haeger's bombs help UF make it to final

Florida's Lauren Haeger (17) celebrates as she rounds first after hitting a home run against UCF during the first of two elimination games the Gators played in the 2012 NCAA Softball Regionals, in Gainesville. The Gators beat the Knights 7-1.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 6:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 6:08 p.m.

After a Friday filled with distractions, Florida found solace on the diamond Saturday in the NCAA Softball Gainesville Regional.



What: NCAA Softball Gainesville Regional
Who: Florida vs. USF
When: 1 p.m.
Gainesville-area radio: 104.9 FM
Note: Florida needs two wins vs. USF to move on.

In a pair of must-win games, the host Gators delivered. Florida beat UCF 7-1, then knocked off Florida Gulf Coast University 6-2 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium to advance to Sunday's regional finals against USF.

“I couldn't be more proud of my team today,” Florida softball coach Tim Walton said. “It was a team effort today. Had a lot of heroes, a lot of nice plays defensively, did a really good job offensively, had some productive outs, executed some things.”

The long ball helped, too. Florida belted a combined six home runs in the two wins, including three from first baseman/pitcher Lauren Haeger and two more from catcher Kelsey Horton.

How Florida played was a stark contrast to Friday, when the Gators came out flat in a 2-1 loss to FGCU after starters Sami Fagan, Kasey Fagan and Cheyenne Coyle were kicked off the team.

“(Friday) was a hard day for all of us,” Haeger said. “I had some personal things going on, too, so I think today was really good that we all came out. We were all really excited to play.”

Said Walton: “We have 12 players (left) who want to play ball and want to continue to play ball, and that's the focus. We're not really worrying about the uncontrolled. Our focus is just right here.”

Walton said that Haeger has been dealing with emotions surrounding a sick relative back in her native Peoria, Ariz. But on Saturday, Haeger put together one of the best games of her Gator softball career. Against UCF, Haeger had two home runs and three RBIs, powering the Gators to the win. Haeger also pitched the final two innings of UF's win over UCF and started the FGCU game, allowing just two runs in five innings to earn the win.

Haeger went 4-for-7 with three home runs and four RBIs in the two wins.

“I just wanted to take my hacks,” Haeger said. “I know if I swing the bat good things will happen. So I was just looking for my pitches and I swung at good pitches.”

Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie also sparked the offense in the FGCU win, going 4-for-4 with two runs scored. Moultrie also made a big defensive play in the game, throwing out FGCU base runner Regan Knapik out at home plate to preserve a 3-1 Florida lead in the fifth inning.

Samatha Holle, filling in for Sami Fagan at third base, also added her first home run of the season.

“I think after what happened (Friday), it definitely brought our team together,” Holle said. “Just to help each other out with our emotions, our teammates having our backs.”

Hannah Rogers (28-7) pitched five shutout innings to earn the win against UCF, and added two more shutout innings in relief against FGCU.

“We were ready to play,” Walton said. “Definitely a little more confident than (Friday) and definitely looked like we were playing a little more comfortable as well.”

Now, the challenge comes Sunday against USF. Florida will need to beat the Bulls twice to advance to the Super Regionals for the fifth straight season. The first game between the two teams starts at 1 p.m.

“If I were to rate the four teams in this tournament, I'd give the advantage to South Florida offensively,” Walton said. “I think they have a pretty good dynamic offensively. If I were to rate the four teams here pitching-wise, I'd give them a little bit of an edge. Defensively, I'd have to give us the edge.”

Said Haeger: “They're a good team, they have really solid hitters and a good pitching staff. We're going to have to go out there and play hard like we did today and make sure we swing and good pitches. Me, Hannah and Alyssa (Bache) have to do a good job in the circle. So it will be a team effort.”

USF 8, FGCU 3: Gina Kafalas went 2-of-4 with two RBIs, lifting USF to the win.

Kenshyra Jackson added four hits for the Bulls (47-11). With the win, USF advanced in the winners' bracket to Sunday's regional final round.

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