Special to the Sun
DENVER – In the high elevation and snowy conditions of the Colorado Rockies, the No. 6 Florida lacrosse team defeated Denver 18-13 on Saturday to clinch its fourth straight Big East regular season championship and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
The game started exactly as Florida wanted it to with a goal in less than a minute when Pirreca Power was put on full display as Shayna Pirreca found her sister Sydney Pirreca to put the Gators up early. Florida continued to score early and often in the first-half as both Lindsey Ronbeck and Grace Haus scored to make it 3-0 Gators. Moments later the Gator lead was extended to six with goals from Sydney, Shannon Kavanagh and Carolina Benitez.
Florida (13-3, 8-0 Big East) held Denver (10-5, 5-3) scoreless for the first 16 minutes of the half and had a 6-0 lead when Denver began to find the back of the net, scoring three goals within two minutes of the each other. The Pioneers continued to push the pace the rest of the half, scoring four more goals and taking a 7-6 lead with 2 minutes left in the half. As the period was coming to a close senior Allie Pavinelli ended the Gators 16 minute scoring drought to tie the game at seven with 0.7 seconds left in the half.
The Gators opened the second-half on a furious rally as Haus, Ronbeck, and Benitez, each scored their second goals of the afternoon within the first three minutes of the second half to open up a 10-7 lead.
Denver brought the game to within a goal after scoring two quick goals to end the Gators run but Florida wasted little time extending the lead with goals from Kavanagh, Shayna Pirreca, and Sydney. When Denver cut the Gators lead to 13-11 Ronbeck scored twice and Shayne once to give the Gators a 16-11 lead late in the period. The Pioneers were able to score two straight with under five minutes left in the game when Sydney and Ronbeck each scored again to put the game away and give Florida an 18-13 win.
Women’s tennis: At Knoxville, Tenn., Florida defeated Arkansas, 4-2, in the SEC Tournament semifinals Saturday at Barksdale Stadium.
The No. 2-seeded Gators (18-7) will compete in the championship match, which will televised live on SEC Network at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, against the league’s regular-season champion Vanderbilt (21-3), which defeated Ole Miss 4-1 in the other semifinal.
For the second straight day, McCartney Kessler-Josie Kuhlman clinched the doubles point for Florida on Court 2. Katie Kubicz-Peggy Porter picked up the first doubles win on Court 3 before Arkansas’ Ana Oparenovic-Tatum Rice defeated Anna Danilina-Victoria Emma on Court 1 to set up the decider at No. 2.
In singles action, Arkansas got on the board first as Natsuho Arakawa earned the Court 4 win over Emma to even the count, 1-1. For the second straight day, Porter provided wins in singles and doubles, finishing off Rice in three sets at No. 5 singles to retake the lead for Florida.
Mia Jurasic evened the tally again for Arkansas, earning a three-set win at No. 3 against Kessler. The tie was short-lived, as the Gators picked up wins from Kubicz and Kuhlman in quick succession soon thereafter, with Kuhlman’s clincher coming in a second-set tiebreaker that the Gator senior dominated for a 7-5, 7-6(2) victory against Ana Oparenovic.
“We’re really excited and fired up to be in yet another SEC Tournament final,” UF coach Roland Thornqvist said. “No matter who we play tomorrow, the task at hand is going to be formidable. I think we have a team right now who is looking forward to playing in the final, albeit we have not played our best tennis, in our players’ opinion, in our first two matches here.
” We’ve left a little bit on the table, perhaps, in both singles and doubles along the way. Now we’re going to try to regroup, talk tonight about our game plan for tomorrow. Our goal is going to be to play the best match of the tournament tomorrow afternoon no matter who we play.”
Women’s golf: At Birmingham, Ala., in the quarterfinal round of SEC Tournament Match Play, Florida fell to Arkansas 2-3 in dramatic fashion.
With only a handful of holes to play, the Gators trailed in every match. That changed on No. 15 when Marta Perez stuck a wedge within a foot of the hole to help her square her match. Perez remained square with Arkansas’ Dylan Kim heading into the par-3 17th. After a nice tee shot, Perez was able to sink her birdie putt while Kim made par.
Perez went on to win the match 1&1.
Elin Esborn who was a group ahead of Perez had her own flair for the dramatic. Esborn entered the par-3 17th down one to the Razorbacks’ Alana Uriell. Esborn flew a wedge into the back left of the green while Uriell found the sand trap in the front left of the green. Eborn was able to come up with a clutch two putt while Uriell was unable to get up and down in two shots.
Entering the final all square, both players found the pine straw off the tee and had to punch out. From the fairway, Esborn stuck her third shot within a few feet of the pin while Uriell flew past it leaving 10+ feet for par.
Uriell would miss her par putt while Esborn sunk her putt claiming the last two holes and the match 1 Up.
Behind them, Sierra Brooks lost one No. 17 2&1, Baggarly fell at No. 16 3&2 and Taylor Tomlinson fell at No. 15 4&3.
Now, the Gators await where they will travel to for the NCAA Regionals which start on May 7.
Alabama, South Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia won their matches and play today.
Softball: At Starkville, Miss., No. 5 Florida completed the series sweep of No. 19 Mississippi State after it took the doubleheader, 6-2 and 3-0 at Nusz Park.
The Gators (41-7, 15-3 SEC) were lifted to the pair of wins over the Bulldogs (33-15, 6-12) with the aid of a grand slam from Amanda Lorenz in game one and complete-game shutout by Kelly Barnhill (21-1) in game two.
Janell Wheaton belted her third home run of the season to give the Gators the early in Game 1. Aleshia Ocasio (16-5) finished the game with seven strikeouts on 104 pitches for her 10th complete-game of the season.
The Gators plated two more runs in the top of the seventh to close out the scoring in Game 2. Ocasio reached on an error by Emily Heimberger at second to start the inning. Jaimie Hoover picked up the first hit of the game with a double off the wall in right field that scored Ocasio from first.