Special to Gatorsports.com
OKLAHOMA CITY — Florida played long ball in its first game at the Women’s College World Series on Thursday, belting three home runs to run-rule Georgia 11-3 in five innings.
The second-seeded Gators (56-9) will play at 9:30 p.m. Friday in a winner’s bracket game against three seed UCLA (57-5), which defeated Florida State late Thursday night in the final opening-day game. No. 7 seed Georgia (48-12) will play six seed FSU in a Saturday elimination game at 2:30 p.m.
Florida coach Tim Walton was making all the right calls Thursday. He started Aleshia Ocasio in the circle instead of ace Kelly Barnhill. Ocasio (23-7) had a shaky start, but settled down and also starred at the plate. In five innings, she allowed three runs on seven hits, struck out seven and walked only one.
Georgia, which is the only SEC team to win a series against the league champion Gators this season, jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run home run by Justice Milz.
But Florida seized momentum on the bottom of the inning on Jordan Matthews’ two-run double and Ocasio’s three-run home run for a 5-2 lead.
“We punched right back,” Ocasio said on ESPN2. “Our offense had my back.”
Walton said that while Ocasio pitched great, the bounce back in the first changed the game.
“To be able to shift the momentum by going back on defense with the lead was huge,” Walton said. “To change in tempo was real important, to get our confidence back with a three-run lead.”
Janell Wheaton hit a run-scoring groundout for a 6-2 lead in the second.
Georgia cut the deficit to 6-3 in the third on a solo home run by Alyssa DiCarlo.
Florida began to pull away when pinch-hitter Jordan Roberts hit a two-run home run for a 8-3 advantage in the fourth.
“We felt like Aleshia was the best match-up with Georgia swingers,” Walton said. “Her athleticism in the circle, a lot of things that led to that decision. Also the way she pitched against them last time, I thought that was key in making our decision, the second part.
“Again, you’ve got a lefty versus lefty match-up with Jordan Matthews, and their pitcher, and I liked our right-handed bat off the bench a little bit better. Second furthest ball I’ve ever seen hit here in a Gator uniform. Megan Bush being the first one against Michigan.”
The Gators settled the outcome with three runs in the fifth, one on a solo home run by Hannah Adams, the other two scoring on a bases loaded walk to Kayli Kvistad and when Wheaton was hit by pitch.
Georgia used four pitchers and didn’t get more than 2 1/3 innings from any of them. They combined to give up 11 runs on seven hits and eight walks to bring about the eight-run mercy rule.
“I do think there were some nerves that happened within the game,” Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer said. “You know, it’s over now. We move forward. Florida played a great game. You’ve got to give them credit, and we’ve got to do better and we will.”
The Gators had not hit three home runs in a game this season against a Power 5 conference opponent. They hit five against Hampton, four against Loyola Marymount, and two in 10 other games, but only once (against Bethune-Cookman) in this NCAA Tournament. UF has now hit 18 home runs in its last 13 games.
The Gators did not face UCLA this season and split a home-and-home series against the Seminoles, losing 4-1 at Tallahassee on April 11 and winning 5-1 in Gainesville on April 25.
Note: Florida broke the NCAA DI record for most walks in a season after having drawn eight. The team now has 356 walks on the year. The previous record was held by Auburn with 349 walks over 70 games in 2016n. This is the Gators 65th game of the year. … Amanda Lorenz broke the UF single-season walks record, which Kvistad set with 67 in 2017.
|At ASA Hall of Fame Stadium|
|All Times EDT|
|Double Elimination; x-if necessary|
Oregon 11, Arizona State 6
Washington 2, Oklahoma 0
Florida 11, Georgia 3, 5 innings
UCLA 7, Florida State 4
Game 5 — Oregon (53-8) vs. Washington (50-8), 7 p.m., ESPN
Game 6 — Florida (56-9) vs. UCLA (57-5), 9:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 7 — Arizona State (48-12) vs. Oklahoma (55-4), Noon
Game 8 — Georgia (48-12) vs. Florida State (52-12), , 2:30 p.m.
Game 9 — Game 6 loser vs. Game 7 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 10 — Game 5 loser vs. Game 8 winner, 9:30 p.m.