One by one, Illinois State’s players approached the batter’s box.
And one by one, they trudged back to the dugout.
Last year, the Gators turned to their underclassmen to fill pivotal roles. This year could prove to be similar.
Florida starting pitcher Aleshia Ocasio was on her game Friday night. She pitched five perfect innings for UF’s softball team as it picked up its first win of the season, 9-0, against the Redbirds at the USF Softball Complex in Tampa.
Ocasio threw 48 strikes in a 63-pitch outing and struck out eight batters.
“Knowing that we had a lead obviously made me feel a little more confident,” Ocasio said. “But overall, I wasn’t thinking too much about. I was just trying to do my thing on the circle.”
However, her performance at the plate sparked UF’s two largest rallies of the game.
With the contest scoreless and the bases empty, Ocasio drew a one-out walk in the second inning. Designated player Jordan Roberts then dropped in a single, advancing Ocasio to third. Shortstop Sophia Reynoso followed Roberts with a single of her own, scoring the senior to make it 1-0.
In the seventh inning, Ocasio found herself in the same situation: one out and no base runners. She got UF’s scoring attack started again, this time with a triple. Roberts then drove in Ocasio with a double, and two batters later, right fielder Jordan Matthews registered her first collegiate hit, a three-run home run to give the Gators a 9-0 lead.
“That’s just the luxury of having a player like her (Ocasio),” coach Tim Walton said. “She’s got the ability to do a lot of special things and we’re just trying to utilize her to the best of her ability.”
Illinois State pitcher Morgan Day struggled to match Ocasio’s performance.
The right-hander totaled 145 pitches, leaving the game in the seventh after Roberts’ double with seven earned runs allowed. Day gave up runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings as well.
Florida second baseman Hannah Adams crushed a line drive to left-center field in the fourth for her first career hit, scoring center fielder Alex Voss and making it 3-0.
Reynoso stepped in the batter’s box with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth and singled to left to score left fielder Amanda Lorenz. Reynoso went 3 for 3 on the night with two RBIs.
Lorenz chipped in with a sacrifice fly to left field in the top of the sixth to score third baseman Nicole DeWitt. Redbirds left fielder Taylor Vanderpool rifled a throw to home that seemed to beat the sprinting DeWitt, but she slid under the tag to score the run.
Pitchers Katie Chronister and Kelly Barnhill came in to relieve Ocasio in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively.
The pair combined to strike out five Redbirds. However, Barnhill allowed two walks and a hit, the only blemishes on the Gators’ defensive.
“That first win under the belt is a great feeling,” Ocasio said. “We’re going to come back tomorrow, strong.”
Florida plays tomorrow in Tampa against Michigan at 11 a.m.