Late rally falls short vs. Dawgs
Published: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 12:04 a.m.
Behind a career-high 14 strikeouts from freshman pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson and a pair of clutch doubles from freshman catcher Katie Browne, Georgia took the series opener over No. 2 Florida, 3-2, Friday before a Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium crowd of 1,472.
Who: No. 23 Georgia (35-16, 12-7) at No. 2 UF (45-6, 14-5)
TV/Radio: ESPNU/104.9 FM
Where: Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium
The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs improved to 35-16 overall and 12-7 in SEC play while the Gators, who came into the contest just one game behind No. 3 Tennessee in the SEC overall race, slipped to 45-6, 14-5.
“She was obviously doing a good job,” UF coach Tim Walton said of Wilkinson. “She changed her speeds really well, and we were off-balance pretty much the whole game.”
Florida missed a chance to take a quick lead as freshman Kelsey Stewart singled to lead off the home half of the first inning. Following a walk to fellow freshman Kirsti Merritt and a throwing error, UF had runners on second and third with nobody out.
But Wilkinson, who struck out a then-career-high 12 batters last Friday in a win over No. 13 Texas A&M, struck out UF's No. 3-4 hitters, sophomore Lauren Haeger and senior Kelsey Horton, on 3-2 pitches, then after walking junior Stephanie Tofft to load the bases, struck out freshman Taylor Schwarz on another 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
UF junior ace Hannah Rogers, meanwhile, was in stride as well. She had a no-hitter going with two outs in the fifth when Browne stroked her first offering into the gap in right-center for an RBI double to plate Anna Swafford, who had reached first on a fielder's choice.
The game stayed 1-0 until the seventh when the Bulldogs scored what looked to be a pair of insurance runs, but ended up being the difference-makers.
Swafford singled with two outs, and Browne doubled to short left-center. Merritt, UF's center fielder, tried to throw out Swafford at third, but her throw sailed wide of the bag and went into the Florida dugout, allowing Swafford to score and Browne to take third.
Browne then raced home on an infield hit by Samantha LaZear to make it 3-0.
As they have done all season, though, the Gators battled back in their last at-bat.
A walk, a hit batter and a bunt single by Stewart loaded the bases with one out, and Merritt turned in an impressive 14-pitch at-bat that finally ended with a walk to force in UF's first run of the game.
Haeger followed with a deep sacrifice fly that was caught at the wall in foul territory for the second out, making it a 3-2 game, but with the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position, Wilkinson was able to retire Horton on a hard, high chopper to third to secure the win.
“It feels amazing,” said Wilkinson, who improved to 6-3 and is 3-1 since taking over as Georgia's No. 1 starter. “Our team came in here and we wanted it. We weren't going to lie down.”
Both pitchers allowed five hits and two earned runs, with Rogers (25-4) tagged with the loss.
“It was a tough loss, but it happens,” Stewart said. “We just have to keep moving. It's a series, not one game, so it's best out of three. We just have to come out sharper.”
The teams meet in game two today at noon. It will be Senior Day with the Gators honoring seniors Horton and Ensley Gammel.