Lauren Haeger had the luck of the Irish with her on St. Patrick’s Day.
The sophomore belted the game-tying and game-winning home runs as No. 3 Florida (27-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) took the weekend series from No. 6 Tennessee (23-6, 3-3 SEC) with a 5-3 victory on Sunday.
“I wore my lucky shamrocks today,” Haeger said of her green earrings.
Haeger didn’t need luck in her first two plate appearances, drawing walks on 3-2 and 3-0 counts. But when she did get a chance to swing, she made her own good fortune.
With the Gators down by three in the sixth inning, Haeger came to the plate with Kelsey Stewart and Kirsti Merritt on base. She unleashed on the 1-2 delivery from Volunteers pitcher Ellen Renfroe and sent it over the fence in left-center field to tie the game.
The two teams went to extra innings for the third consecutive game after neither scored in the seventh.
Fortunately for the Gators, Haeger came to the plate in the eighth with Stewart on base again.
“I was really just thinking base hit,” Haeger said.
Stewart thought differently.
“I actually thought they were going to walk her,” Stewart said. “But once they threw that first strike … I was like, ‘She’s about to hit a home run.’”
Haeger drove the 0-1 pitch to nearly the same spot as her first blast, and she ran home into a mass of Gators surrounding home plate.
Before Haeger’s home run, Florida struggled on offense.
Renfroe started for the second straight day. She struck out 14 batters on Saturday, but the Gators made adjustments before Sunday’s game and limited the junior right-hander to five punch outs in five-plus innings of work.
Haeger said the team switched to heavier bats for Sunday’s game to counter Renfroe’s effective off-speed pitches.
“We were missing the ball by 10 feet yesterday,” she said.
Coach Tim Walton said Renfroe pitched well on Sunday, but he chalked up the difference in results to Florida’s adjustments.
“We made them play catch and turn the lineup over a little bit more,” Walton said. “[Renfroe] did a wonderful job. … She got her strikeouts when she needed to, got pop ups and cheap ground balls when she needed to.”
The win was Florida’s second walk-off victory of the weekend. Third baseman Stephanie Tofft drew a game-winning walk against Tennessee on Friday night.
“We shouldn’t have to come down to that,” Stewart said. “But it’s fun.”
Contact Adam Lichtenstein at [email protected].