Gators rally to clinch SEC softball series

Florida's Nicole DeWitt scores the winning run after a hit by Kayli Kvistad in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday against Kentucky at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.The Gators won 3-2. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

By Jim Harvin, Correspondent

The second-ranked Florida softball team plated a pair of runs in their final at-bat on back-to-back RBI singles from junior Amanda Lorenz and senior Kayli Kvistad to pull out a 3-2 win over Kentucky and clinch the SEC series before a Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium crowd of 1,765 Saturday.

Lorenz, who came into the contest with a team-high .453 batting average, led a nine-hit UF attack by going 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI while junior right-hander Aleshia Ocasio pitched a complete-game victory, scattering six hits and striking out 10 hitters highlighted by eight of the last 10 she faced in improving to 9-1 on the season.

“We were fighting until the very last pitch,” Ocasio said. “Kentucky’s a good team, and they were battling each and every at-bat. But I felt really good on the mound and we pulled a win out, so I’m very happy for that.”

The Gators (21-1, 2-0) headed to their final at-bat trailing 2-1 on Alex Martens’ leadoff home run in the top of the third that broke a 1-all tie, but the fans stayed to the end and were rewarded with a pair of UF runs and the series-clinching win.

No. 9 hitter Sophia Reynoso got the rally started with a leadoff single to right field, and freshman Hannah Adams moved her to second on a fielder’s choice.

DeWitt followed by drawing a walk, with Reynoso taking third on a wild pitch from UK starter Grace Baalman, and Lorenz singled her home with the game-tying run.

Kvistad, who was 0-for-3 at that point, then came to the plate and delivered a sharp single to center, with DeWitt racing home with the game-winner, giving the Gators their first walk-off win of the year.

“We never got our heads down to start with throughout all seven innings,” said Kvistad, who played despite feeling under the weather. “It was definitely a shift of momentum just because they were up 2-1, but we got the leadoff runner on (Reynoso) and I knew we were going to score.”

UF coach Tim Walton was understandably happy.

“The easiest thing to talk about is Aleshia Ocasio,” Walton said. “She came out and pitched a really nice game. She gave up a couple of hits, but I think overall just one hard one (Martens’ homer over the center field fence). She struck out eight of the last 10 batters and did a really good job of settling in and pitched really, really nice.

“But, you know, you can’t make that stuff up. I can practice as hard as I want to, but you can’t put your team in a situation down by one in the seventh inning against a really good team and find your way to your nine-hole hitter who’s been struggling a little bit to get a hit and get things going. We just needed another runner on base to give us a chance to get to the middle of the lineup.”

Kentucky slipped to 15-5, 0-2 with Baalman (7-2) taking the tough loss.

The Gators will go for the series sweep today at Sunday.