The game was over.
But when it was truly over, Florida’s Janell Wheaton was sprinting to first base with her arms in the air after a game-winning walk.
For a team that set a school record for walks in a season Thursday night, maybe that was appropriate.
Florida scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh, two of them on bases-loaded walks, to beat Texas A&M, 5-4, at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
“Just make her bring the ball up to me,” Wheaton said of her game-winning bases on balls. “With Gator Nation being so loud, it was hard to hear. I just imagined how she felt.
“It was awesome just the crowd and a big win and have your teammates running after you.”
The Gators were staring down the barrel of a tough loss heading into the inning when Amanda Lorenz, who had three hits in the game, drilled a solo homer to pull the Gators within one.
“She’s the best player in America,” said Florida coach Tim Walton. “She has ‘it’.”
After a two-out walk to Kayli Kvistad, Jordan Matthews hit a grounder up the middle to second baseman Kaitlyn Alderink. She mishandled the ball and then shoveled a toss to shortstop Kristen Cuyos, who bobbled the ball to allow the runner to be safe instead of ending the game.
The next batter, Jaimie Hoover, grounded one right at Cuyos, who let the ball go under her glove.
Pinch-runner Lily Mann rounded third, but held as the crowd of 1,425 groaned.
“I sent her,” Walton said. “She slid into third so she didn’t pick me up in time.”
Two walks later, the second by reliever Payton McBride, Florida (54-8) had an improbable win.
“We gave ourselves every opportunity to beat Florida in a Super Regional on the road,” A&M coach Jo Evans said. “We just didn’t finish.”
Kelly Barnhill (29-1) got the win. She only gave up two hits, but a wild inning after the second of two weather delays nearly cost her and the Gators.
Florida, the No. 2 seed, is one win away from another trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series. Game 2 is at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Thanks to our fans, they were awesome,” Walton said. “We really felt them. I’m proud of our fight. It’s a seven-inning game for a reason.”
The 15th-seeded Aggies (43-17) scored three runs in the third by using the same formula that has been so successful for Florida this year, using patience at the plate to ignite a big inning.
After the second weather delay, Barnhill struggled with her control in the inning after play resumed, hitting one batter and walking two more to load the bases. She had two strikes on A&M’s Sarah Hudek before the sophomore singled through the right side to score two runs.
“It’s always difficult but I don’t think it had that much of an impact,” Barnhill said. “For me personally, I felt like I was just throwing around batters, not attacking.”
The third run scored on a rarity — catcher Wheaton’s second passed ball of the season. It followed another walk as Barnhill finished the game with three walks — all in the third — and eight strikeouts.
The Gators scored in the bottom of the third when Sophia Reynoso walked and Lorenz doubled off the wall in left center. But Florida could not get Lorenz home from second with nobody out.
And in the top of the fourth, Texas A&M’s Alderink hit only her second homer of the year to lead off the inning. Barnhill has now allowed 18 homers this season, 15 of then solo homers. But after the long ball, she retired the final 12 Aggie hitters.
“I definitely wasn’t happy (after the home run),” Barnhill said. “I knew I just had to lock down after that, keep them where they were.”
The Gators scored their second run in the bottom of the fourth when Wheaton got her first hit of this NCAA Tournament, a sharp single that scored Hoover from second.
Florida sent A&M outfielders to the warning track on several occasions against pitcher Trinity Harrington (13-6) but the Gators kept coming up just short. Aleshia Ocasio’s shot to center field was caught by Erica Russell with her back touching the wall in the sixth and a runner on.
Then came the Lorenz homer to get the seventh rocking.
“That’s clutch,” Wheaton said of Lorenz’s sixth hit of the postseason. “We were just in the moment. We knew something big was going to happen. For it to be a home run, we just knew this was going to happen some way or another.”