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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Gators showed why they earned a No. 13 preseason ranking Sunday afternoon.

UF (5-0) defeated the South Florida 5-1 in the fifth and final game of the USF\Wilson Invitational in Tampa.

All-American pitcher Stacey Nelson, who struggled in her first outing of the season Friday night, pitched seven stellar innings, allowing just one run on two hits.

"She's not one of those people who's going to get down," Coach Tim Walton said.

The Gators were behind 1-0 until scoring four runs in the top of the fourth, including a two-run double by senior right fielder Mary Ratliff.

The double was Ratliff's third extra-base hit of the tournament.

"It was a good start, but I need to work on my consistency," Ratliff said of her fast start to the season. "I don't like following up doubles with strikeouts."

The Gators put up one more run in the fifth inning when Kim Waleszonia hit a triple and advanced home on a throwing error.

That was all the run support Nelson would need.

The UF junior put up zeros in each of the last two innings on her way to her third win of the season.

Walton was pleased with his star pitcher's performance during the weekend even though he felt she was not at her best.

"She's got a target on her back," he said. "Teams are going to come after her every time she pitches."

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That sentiment proved especially true this weekend, as Nelson pitched in all three of the Gators' close contests.

She earned the 6-4 win Friday night against Florida Gulf Coast and then pitched in a close 3-2 victory Saturday against Illinois.

Freshman Stephanie Brombacher had an easier time inside the circle, collecting two wins in mercy-rule-shortened victories.

On Friday, UF blew out Bethune-Cookman 10-0 and then proceeded to blank Memphis the next day in a 9-0 rout.

"When the offense does their job it makes life easy," Brombacher said.

In her first two appearances donning the orange and blue, Brombacher pitched nine innings without allowing a single run.

Perhaps more impressive than that is the 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio she posted during the weekend.

"She commanded all her pitches, threw strikes and kept people off balance," Walton said.

Brombacher wasn't the only freshman to make a splash in her debut.

In UF's first game against Bethune-Cookman, shortstop Megan Bush hit a home run in her very first at-bat as a Gator, and second baseman Aja Paculba went deep in the second at-bat of her career.

Catcher Tiffany DeFelice hit .500 with two doubles in her first weekend as a Gator.

"It makes me more and more excited for the rest of the season," Ratliff said of the Gators' young talent. "We have some stars in that group."

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