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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Nelson strikes out career-high 13, UF remains undefeated

As the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

But after wrapping up the Aquafina Invitational on Sunday, coach Tim Walton might argue that close counts for gaining experience as well.

"It's very, very important for us to learn that no matter what the score is, we can come back," he said. "And no matter how far ahead we are, teams can come back."

All-American Stacey Nelson struck out a career-high 13 batters as No. 7 UF (19-0) kept its best start in school history going by earning a 5-2 win in the gold medal game against Notre Dame - one of four games the Gators played this weekend that were decided by three runs or less.

"All the teams we played in the tournament were really good," center fielder Kim Waleszonia said. "It's good to have close games because it shows where your heart is."

In the first game of the tournament on Friday, UF logged yet another mercy-rule shortened victory against Gardner-Webb, defeating the Bulldogs 15-1 with freshman Stephanie Brombacher earning the victory.

Nelson would take the mound for the Gators in the nightcap, shutting out North Florida in a 3-0 decision.

It wasn't until a match up with the Irish on Saturday that the Gators showed they are capable of winning from behind.

With Nelson in the circle, Notre Dame jumped out to a one-run lead at the end of the first inning.

That run snapped Nelson's school-record consecutive scoreless innings streak at 47, a full 18 innings more than the previous school best - also set by Nelson.

More importantly, the deficit marked the first time since the fifth game of the season that the team has trailed an opponent.

The Irish would score another run in the third and take a 2-0 lead into the sixth.

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Waleszonia, the only Gator to reach base safely more than once in that game, led off the inning by drawing her second walk of the game.

With Waleszonia on first and sophomore Kristina Hilberth at the plate, UF finally got its rally-starting break.

Hilberth hit a hard ground ball to Notre Dame second baseman Katie Laing, who applied the tag on Waleszonia but overthrew first base, allowing Hilberth to advance to second.

The Gators would go on to score three runs, including what would be the game winner, when freshman Tiffany DeFelice - who hit her first three career home runs over the weekend - drove in sophomore Francesca Enea with a single up the middle.

Nelson, who earned the win in each of the four close contests, emphatically slammed the door on a 3-2 victory by striking out the side on just 10 pitches.

As a reward for their perseverance, Saturday concluded with a nail biting rematch against the Bulldogs.

Sophomore Corrie Brooks would combine for back-to-back two-out doubles with Waleszonia in the bottom of the seventh, allowing UF to come away with a 4-3 win.

"I'd be surprised if I saw a little girl who can hit like that," Waleszonia said when asked if she thought her game-winning double over the right fielder's head caught the other team off guard.

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