May 16, 2008
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The first four batters reached base capped off by a grand slam by Francesca Enea to lead No. 1 Florida (62-2) to a 7-2 win over Georgia Tech (31-30) Friday night n the opening round of the NCAA Tournament before a crowd of 1,541 at Pressly Stadium. Senior Aileen Morales was on base four times for the Jackets as she had a pair of doubles, a walk and was hit by a pitch. Georgia Tech will now play South Florida in an elimination game Saturday at 3:30 p.m. USF beat Tech 1-0 earlier this season.
“Florida is a good team and there is a reason why they are the No. 1 team in the country,” head coach Sharon Perkins said. “We dug ourselves an early hole, but I am proud of how we never stopped battling all night. We need to move and start focusing on South Florida tomorrow.”
Play was delayed an hour and a half due to a band of heavy thunderstorms that moved through about an hour before the scheduled first pitch. When play finally began just past 7:30, senior Aileen Morales led off the game with a double to right field on a 12-pitch at bat, but was stranded there. Florida ace Stacey Nelson was able to get junior Blair Shimandle to ground out and then struck out both senior Savannah Brown and junior Whitney Haller to get out of the jam.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Gators loaded the bases with nobody out on a pair of infield singles and a walk and then Francesca Enea took the first she saw from tech senior pitcher Whitney Humphreys over the fence in left field for a grand slam. It was her 15th home run of the season and second straight year that she has hit a grand slam in the NCAA Tournament against the Yellow Jackets.
It could have worse later in the inning as Florida had a runner on first with one out when Mary Ratliff doubled off the wall in left field. Freshman Christy Jones threw to senior shortstop Aileen Morales on the cutoff who was able to gun down Megan Bush trying to score. By that point, Ratliff was half-way to third base and Tech senior catcher Savannah Brown threw to senior third baseman Brittany Barnes as they had Ratliff in a run-down. Barnes ran her back towards second base and threw to junior first baseman Whitney Haller covering the bag to complete the unconventional double play.
It was still 4-0 Florida in the fourth when a scary moment occurred for Nelson and the Gators. With Brown already aboard on a leadoff single, Haller crushed a shot up the middle that hit Nelson on the hand. She was able to throw Haller out, but Brown moved to second base on the play. Nelson shook off the injury, but with two outs freshman Jessica Weaver lined a ball of third baseman Corrie Brooks’ glove and into shallow left field allowing Brown to score Tech’s first run. It was scored an error on Brooks as Tech made it a 4-1 game. Later in the inning, Nelson walked senior Becky McCraw and freshman pinch hitter Amanda Crow, but freshman pinch hitter Caroline Hilton struck out with two down and the bases loaded ending the Jacket’ best scoring threat of the game so far.
Florida came back in the bottom of the fourth inning with two more runs and that knocked Humphreys out of the game. The Gators had runners at second and third with one out, but Humphreys got leadoff hitter Kim Waleszonia to pop up to Brown in foul ground for the inning’s second out. A wild pitch plated the fifth Gator run and then a RBI single to left off the bat of Aja Paculba made it 6-1 Florida and was the end of Humphreys’ night. Johnson walked the first batter she faced, but was able to get out of the inning without any further damage. Still, it was now a 6-1 Florida lead heading to the fifth frame.
The Jackets continued to chip away and scored another run off Nelson in the top of the fifth inning. Morales led off with a double to right-centerfield, her second of the game, and scored one batter later when Shimandle singled up the middle. Shimandle was on second base after her 38th stolen base of the season with no outs, but Nelson retired the heart of the Tech order to get out of the jam.
Brooks made it a 7-2 game when she took Johnson deep for a solo home run, her second of the season, in the bottom of the sixth inning. Johnson retired the final two batters of the sixth inning, but the Jackets now needed at least five runs to extend the game in the top of the seventh and would have to do it against a new pitcher. Stephanie Brombacher came in for the Gators to pitch the seventh inning.
Nelson was charged with two runs, one earned, on four hits and three walks. She had seven strikeouts.
Tech had runners at first and second with one out in the top of the seventh inning, but could nit scratch any closer. The Gators won the game 7-2 and moved into the winner’s bracket. Humphreys (19-16) took the loss for the Jackets as she was charged with six earned runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out one. Johnson gave up the one run on one hit in 2.1 innings of relief. She walked two and struck out two.
Georgia Tech will now face South Florida in an elimination game Saturday at 3:30 p.m. There will be free live video via Gatorvision. Fans can find the link at www.ramblinwreck.com.