After Florida’s loss to Alabama in the first game of the NCAA Super Regional on Thursday, the team knew what needed to be done to avoid missing the College World Series for a second consecutive season.
The Gators had just been shut out by the Crimson Tide 3-0 - the same score as last year’s game one defeat against Georgia - after allowing all three runs on back-to-back throwing errors from UF pitcher Kelly Barnhill.
But after falling into an early deficit in the best-of-three series, Florida once again found itself in a win-or-go-home scenario, a situation that outfielder Amanda Lorenz said elevates her team’s performance.
“I think we play better with our backs against the wall anyway,” she said. “It’s over. We can’t do anything about it now. We’re just going to fight.”
Lorenz may not have known it at the time, but she was right.
Over the next two games, the Gators saw improvement in their hitting.
After nabbing three hits and no runs on Thursday, the Gators had a combined eight hits and four runs on Friday and Saturday.
It started with a Justine McLean bunt and a Lorenz bomb over the right-center field wall. In game three, a strong first inning at the plate boosted by singles from Lorenz and Aleshia Ocasio helped UF take an early lead it would never let up.
“Once (the home run) went over, I was just really excited because we’re finally able to get our amazing pitching staff some runs, and that really made me happy because they just work so hard for us each and every day,” Lorenz said on Friday.
That pitching staff was a major factor in this Super Regional as well.
Barnhill struck out 11 batters and allowed just one hit in the first game, a good performance overshadowed by costly throwing errors in the bottom of the fifth. In game two, the Gators turned to senior pitcher Delanie Gourley, who shut out Alabama with eight strikeouts and gave up four hits.
And on Saturday, UF went back to Barnhill in the elimination game. This time, she wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
Aside from the second inning where the Tide scored its only run of the game, the Marietta, Georgia, native struck out 12 batters and retired the side from the third to sixth innings.
“It was amazing to be able to get that out and then have everyone out there celebrating together,” Barnhill said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be able to be a contributor to help our team.”
With the win, the Gators now turn their attention to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. The last time Florida played a game in Hall of Fame Stadium, it won a national championship.
UF’s first opponent is Texas A&M, a team it didn’t play this season. Just like the Gators, the Aggies dropped their first game of the Super Regional in their matchup against Tennessee, but went on to win the next two by a one-run and two-run margin, respectively.
This is Florida’s eighth time making it to Oklahoma City, and after not getting there last season, the Gators will look to go as far as they did in 2014 and 2015 when they won back-to-back national titles. With a little bit of momentum and confidence heading into the competition following the pair of wins over Alabama, the Gators have the talent to do so.
“We had this feeling today,” Gourley said after Florida’s win on Saturday. “When we came out, we knew what was going to happen. The way that we could just come out and do it, it was amazing.”