Softball showdown: No. 2 Florida State gets best of No. 7 Florida in extra innings
\When the Florida State Seminoles' softball team last visited the Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on the University of Florida's campus, it was in the middle of November for a fall scrimmage that saw the Gators beat the 'Noles by a lopsided score of 17-4.
But that game didn't matter. Wednesday night's 10-inning battle in Gainesville did.
And the second-ranked Seminoles (36-2) improved to 20-0 in road and neutral-site games with a 4-2 win over No. 7 Florida (30-7) in extra innings.
Wednesday night's matchup had all the ingredients for an instant classic. Both the Seminoles and Gators entered the evening ranked in the top 10, not to mention the weight of the in-state rivalry that drew a sizeable crowd of more than 2,000 fans.
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Here are takeaways from Wednesday night's midweek rivalry tilt.
Florida State's veterans lift 'Noles late
The Seminoles' first lead of the night came in the 10th inning. Up to that point, Florida State had been playing catchup with the Gators, who took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
The 'Noles answered that run in their next trip to the plate as Florida State junior Devyn Flaherty ripped a RBI single up the middle to tie the game at one run apiece, only for the Gators to once again gain the advantage with a run in the bottom of the fifth.
Come the top of the sixth inning, FSU had once again answered the call with a RBI single from Kalei Harding, to make it 2-2 — that remained the score heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
With the game tied heading into the Gators' half of the frame and the top of Florida's order due up, FSU head coach Lonni Alameda called to the bullpen and sent veteran Kathryn Sandercock to the circle.
Sandercock, a senior who has appeared in games against the Gators three times in her career, kept UF's powerful top-of-the-order from doing any damage, paving the way for the 'Noles to take the lead in the top of the 10th.
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Sure enough, it was another seasoned Seminole to get the job done.
Florida State fifth-year Sydney Sherrill attacked the first pitch of the 10th inning and sent it soaring over the wall in right centerfield, good for her second home run of the season and the 37th of her career.
The Seminoles went on to add an insurance run later in the inning thanks to some small ball. It was Florida State's veterans who helped lift the 'Noles to the gritty win — something Alameda figured would help FSU on Wednesday night.
"It's not a matter of stepping up, it's a matter of being more relaxed. I think the bigger games you get and the more hype and the more media interviews you have, all of a sudden, you feel like it's special," Alameda told media members Tuesday. "But the fact is, it's just another ball game... The more experience just allows you to be more relaxed in the situation."
Gators leave too many on base
One of the highlights of the night for Florida was that the Gators put a leadoff runner on base in seven of their 10 innings — that's compared to just three leadoff runners for the Seminoles.
"The execution was good," Florida head coach Tim Walton said. "We had runners in scoring position and less than two outs quite a few times ... a runner at third base in at least one instance with less than two outs."
The Gators scattered nine hits against the Seminoles, with freshman Kendra Falby (2-5), freshman Sam Roe (2-3) and senior Charla Echols (2-3, RBI) leading the way.
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But stranding 12 batters in the base path haunted the Gators — a problem for UF all season.
"That was the message to the crew afterwards," Walton said. "To play good teams, to be a good team, to win big games, when teams have numbers in front of their name, regional and super regional play, you're going to have to get hits with runners in scoring position. And we didn't do that."
Big weekend ahead for both teams
There are likely few college softball teams in the country that have a week schedule quite like the Seminoles and Gators face this week.
Playing a top-10 matchup during the middle of the week is tough enough, but now both teams turn their attention to their respective conference series as both Florida State and Florida will host top-10 opponents.
The Seminoles welcome fourth-ranked Virginia Tech to Joanne Graf Field this weekend in what will be the highest-ranked matchup in ACC history. Game one gets underway on Friday at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, Florida will host fifth-ranked Alabama at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium for a rematch of last season's SEC tournament championship. That action kicks off on Saturday night at 5 p.m.