GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s Nicole DeWitt raised her hands in the air as she ran toward first base and saw the ball she just hit sail over the fence in right field. With Florida’s season on the line against Oklahoma State on Sunday, the junior’s first-inning home run set the tone.
After the Cowgirls shut the Gators out in the first game Sunday of the double-elimination NCAA Tournament regional, top-seeded Florida rallied back in the winner-takes-all finale for a 5-0 victory to advance to the Super Regionals for the fifth straight year.
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“We just tried not focusing on the first game,” DeWitt said. “You can’t change the outcome. We just tried to come out and be ourselves. … It was exciting to bounce back that fast.”
In addition to DeWitt’s home run, the Gators (53-7) scored on an Amanda Lorenz sacrifice fly in the second inning, a Jordan Roberts RBI single in the third and a Sophia Reynoso RBI single in the fifth.
Senior pitcher Delanie Gourley improved to 20-4 after throwing 7 scoreless innings against Oklahoma State (38-25). She gave up just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 11 batters. In two regional games this weekend, Gourley threw 12 scoreless innings and gave up just 1 hit while striking out 19 batters. She opened the NCAA Tournament with Florida’s second postseason no-hitter in program history, a 9-0 win over Florida A&M in 5 innings.
“Really proud of the way this left-hander came out and gave us the chance to win a ballgame,” coach Tim Walton said.
Florida was forced to play a second game Sunday after losing 1-0 to Oklahoma State, which advanced through the losers’ bracket and needed to defeat Florida twice to advance. Oklahoma State’s Vanessa Shippy scored the only run of the first game with an RBI double up the middle in the sixth inning.
Despite a strong start in the circle from Kelly Barnhill in the first game on Sunday (6 innings, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 13 strikeouts), Florida’s offense failed to give her run support. The Gators scattered 7 hits but failed to get the key run-scoring hit.
The biggest squandered opportunity came in the fourth inning. Florida loaded the bases with no outs on a Janell Wheaton single, a Roberts single and Aleshia Ocasio walk. Reynoso then chopped a ground ball to third base and Oklahoma State’s Rylee Bayless tagged pinch-runner Lily Mann for the force out. One at-bat later, Chelsea Herndon ripped a ground ball to first base, which Jessi Haffner threw to home plate for the force out. The Cowgirls then got pinch runner Katie Chronister out on the double play.
But with its back against the wall, Florida responded in the second game, recording 8 hits and was 3 for 7 with runners in scoring position to keep its season alive.
“I knew I was not going anywhere. We were not going anywhere,” Gourley said. “We were going to come out and we were going to beat them.”
What’s next for Florida?
Florida will host No. 16 seed Alabama in an all-SEC super regional in a best-of-3 series next week. The Crimson Tide won their regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., by defeating Minnesota 1-0 on Sunday. Times and TV broadcast information for the super regional have not yet been determined. The winner advances to the 8-team Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, which takes place from June 1-7.