Jacksonville came closer to beating No. 1 Florida than any team this year, and it didn’t even get a hit.
The Gators (6-0) swept Jacksonville (3-3) in a doubleheader Wednesday after sophomore Aleshia Ocasio’s performance propelled her team to a 6-0 win in the first game. In the second game, Florida run-ruled the Dolphins 10-0 through five innings to remain undefeated.
Maybe it was hitting the second batter of the game, but something clicked for Ocasio, who only let one runner reach base for the rest of game. She made the Gators’ first no-hitter since 2014 look like a breeze, striking out seven batters in seven innings.
"We work our best in the bullpens, you know, that’s really where it starts," Ocasio said. "Honestly, if we wouldn’t have our defense behind us, these no-hitters, these one-hitters, none of that would even count."
But while Ocasio orchestrated the defense, the Gators’ offense came out flat in the first game. Florida failed to score in the first inning for the first time this season, as the Dolphins mirrored the Gators with strong defense.
But Jacksonville’s play against Florida was unsustainable, and in the third inning, that mirror began to crack.
Taylor Schwarz walked to start the inning and advanced to third on a Justine McLean single. McLean broke to steal second, and as the Jacksonville catcher tried to throw her out, Schwarz streaked home for the Gators' first run.
Two batters later, freshman Amanda Lorenz hit a chopper past the outstretched arm of the shortstop, driving in runners on second and third to give Florida a 3-0 edge.
In the fourth inning, Schwarz hit a towering triple off the right-center wall. Within two batters she crossed the plate again on a Kirsti Merritt groundout.
After the games, coach Tim Walton praised the bottom half of Florida's lineup.
"Look at the production we’re getting out of Janell Wheaton and Kayli Kvistad and Taylor Schwarz." Walton said. "We’re getting a lot of RBIs, so I’m very pleased."
Despite a brisk evening, Florida’s bats warmed up in the second game.
The Gators jumped out to a 10-run lead by the bottom of the third behind a barrage of big hits.
Kvistad started the scoring with a two-run double. Florida continued to pour it on in the second inning when Lorenz stepped up to the plate with two outs and clobbered a two-run double over the center fielder’s head.
Kvistad doubled later in the second inning, driving in Taylore Fuller and Lorenz to put the Gators up 7-0.
"I feel like pressure’s an option," Kvistad said. "And we know that we work hard in practice for the game-like situations."
In the second game, Kelly Barnhill nearly matched Ocasio’s effectiveness. In her third appearance, the freshman allowed only one hit, one walk and struck out nine.
Wednesday marked the first time Florida pitchers gave up a single hit in a doubleheader since Stephanie Brombacher and Stacey Nelson accomplished the feat in 2009.
"Her stuff was the best I've seen it this year," Walton said of Barnhill. "She didn't do too much, didn't try to make too many adjustments, she just kind of let the ball move."
Next, Florida will face UAB and Stephen F. Austin in Orlando on Friday in a doubleheader beginning at 3:30 p.m.