It would have been easy to get frustrated, to get nervous stomachs with every numbing inning as one scoring opportunity after another was wasted into the sultry afternoon.
But if there’s one thing that makes this Florida softball team different, it’s that patience isn’t just a virtue.
It’s a requirement.
“We knew something was going to happen,” said junior Amanda Lorenz. “It wasn’t frustrating because there was a lot of game left. We can be frustrated if we lose, after the game is over.”
Instead, the second-seeded Gators scored three times in the fifth inning and eventually ended the game early with a seven-run sixth, beating Ohio State 10-2 in run-rule fashion.
Florida (52-8) will play for the NCAA Gainesville Regional championship Sunday at noon against Ohio State (36-15), needing to win one more game to advance to the Super Regionals. The Buckeyes played their way through the loser’s bracket later Saturday, beating South Florida 3-2. USF had eliminated Bethune-Cookman 3-0 Saturday evening.
“What a grind of a game,” said Florida coach Tim Walton. “Obviously, a part of our game plan was to make them throw strikes.”
They were few and far between for three Ohio State pitchers who combined to walk 15 batters. Florida came into the game with a school record for regular season walks (297) because Walton has been preaching patience all season.
“People will say we walk too much, but we don’t want to walk,” Walton said. “It’s being able to understand that if you swing at a ball, it’s going to be a pop up.”
Ohio State starter Shelby McCombs threw only 60 strikes in her 140 pitches, but the strategy worked for four innings. Florida left 10 runners on base in the first four innings and managed only one hit.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes (35-15) took the lead in the fourth on a solo homer by Ashley Goodwin against Kelly Barnhill on an 0-2 pitch. It was the 17th homer allowed by Barnhill (28-1) this season and the 14th solo homer.
Ohio State added an unearned run the the fifth on a sharp single by junior Lilli Pepper.
“Looking back, we probably should have walked her,” Walton said. “I just didn’t want to give them too many baserunners.
With the fans mumbling in nervous unison, another opportunity came for UF. Two walks and an Ohio State error loaded the bases for Friday night’s hero Jaimie Hoover.
The sophomore lined a single up the middle to pull Florida within a run.
A year ago, Hoover went 0-for-10 in the NCAA Tournament as a freshman. So far this year, she’s been on base all six times she’s come to the plate and has seven RBIs.
“She’s been on every time, too,” Walton said of Hoover.
The hit ended an 0-for-8 run that Florida had with runners in scoring position in the game.
“That was a little bit of a relief,” Lorenz said.
After Ohio State got a force out at home, Lorenz smashed a single just out of the reach of Ohio State first baseman Taylor White to score two runs and give Florida the lead.
“I was just trying to get my heartbeat down and hit the ball hard through the infield,” Lorenz said.
In the top of the sixth, Barnhill left the game with one out and Aleshia Ocasio got what ended up being the final two outs for Florida.
“The timing was perfect,” Walton said. “They’d seen enough of (Barnhill).”
Then, in the bottom of the inning, things just got silly.
Two more walks were followed by Ocasio’s bunt single. Reliever Morgan Ray walked two more runs home, Lorenz had another RBI single and Ocasio ended the seven-run inning with a single to finish the game against reliever Kat Duvall.
Barnhill had nine strikeouts, giving her 19 for the regional. Ocasio’s save was her second of the season.
NCAA Gainesville Regional
at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium
Ohio State 3, South Florida 1
Florida 8, Bethune-Cookman 0
Florida 10, Ohio State 2
South Florida 3, Bethune-Cookman 0
Ohio State 3, South Florida 2
Florida (52-8) vs. Ohio State (36-15), 12 p.m.
x-If necessary game: 2:30 p.m.