Florida even series vs. Mizzou on Senior Day

Gators junior Lauren Haeger has hit 14 home runs this season, including two to lead Florida past Missouri in a 9-4 win Saturday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.

This time, No. 3 Florida responded early and often.

After dropping Friday's SEC series opener to No. 15 Missouri, 5-3, in a game in which the Gators were held scoreless until their final at-bat, UF scored nine times over the course of the second, third and fourth innings Saturday to erase a 4-0, first-inning deficit and even the series with a 9-4, Senior Day victory.

Junior Lauren Haeger took over for freshman starter Delanie Gourley in the first inning and threw seven innings of scoreless relief while adding a pair of home runs and five RBIs offensively to pace the Gators (42-9, 12-8) to their 11th win in the last 12 games.

“It feels great,” said Haeger (8-1), who earned the win while upping her team-high home run mark to 14 in a stellar two-way performance.

“I haven't pitched in a while, so it was nice to get back out there. My swings are starting to feel a little bit better, slowly but surely.”

The first four batters of the game for Missouri (37-13, 13-7) all reached base and scored on a pair of infield hits, a hit batter, a walk and two wild pitches, to put UF in an early hole and bring a quick end to Gourley's day.

But Haeger got Florida on the board with a leadoff homer in the second, and the Gators took the lead for good in the third by sending eight batters to the plate and scoring five times.

Kelsey Stewart led off the inning with an infield hit, and Kirsti Merritt drew a walk. After both runners moved up on Stephanie Tofft's fielder's choice, Haeger and Bailey Castro stroked back-to-back RBI singles to cut the Missouri lead to 4-3.

Briana Little then stepped to the plate and crushed the first pitch from Tigers' freshman starter Casey Stangel over the tree tops behind the left-field fence for a three-run homer and a 6-4 UF lead.

“My first at-bat, she (Stangel) threw me the same pitch and I watched it,” Little said. “My second at-bat, she threw it again, and I was looking for it.”

One inning later, Haeger, who scattered six hits in the circle, smacked her second round-tripper of the game, this one a three-run shot to right-center that capped the scoring and ended the day for Stangel (13-7), who took the loss.

“I really give Lauren Haeger a lot of credit,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “She did a good job of coming in there and limiting the damage. She got all 21 outs today, so she did a really good job, and provided us with that big spark offensively. She was huge today.”

Prior to the game, Tofft and pitcher Hannah Rogers, UF's only seniors, were honored in an emotional ceremony.

“It was Senior Day, and we didn't want to let Hannah or Steph down,” Haeger said. “I think that's why we pushed a little bit harder.

“We did go down yesterday, so we needed this win. Our goal is to win the series, and that's still the main goal.”

The teams meet in the rubber game of the series at 11 a.m. Sunday.

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