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Sunday, June 23, 2024

No. 1 UF rolls over Lehigh to move on to Super Regionals

The Gators have shown their ability to make adjustments and take over games all season. Sunday, that ability put them one step closer to the Women's College World Series.

No. 1 UF (58-3) overcame three hitless innings and pulled away late for a 9-0 victory against Lehigh (38-18-1) to win the Gainesville Regional and advance to the best-of-three Super Regionals.

UF will face California at home Saturday and Sunday, a rematch of last year's Super Regional, which the Gators won in two games. Saturday night's game will be on ESPN, while Sunday's action will be on ESPN2.

Lehigh pitcher Lisa Sweeney (23-10, 2.15 ERA) allowed only one baserunner in the first three innings Sunday, as shortstop Megan Bush walked to lead off the third.

"You have to give her a lot of credit. She really did a good job of keeping our hits down," left fielder Francesca Enea said. "But we just made some quality adjustments to come through and get the hits and runs we needed when we needed them."

Sweeney's unusual delivery threw the Gators off at the beginning of the game, as she moved very slowly after separating her hands. This caused the UF batters to move their weight toward their front foot early.

"When she was throwing, the timing was off, so you think you have to wait," UF coach Tim Walton said. "By the time you wait, you've waited too long, and you're popping it up and missing it. So we did a good job moving back in the batter's box, giving us more starting time."

The Gators made the necessary changes in the fourth, as catcher Kristina Hilberth led off with a double to center field. Two batters later, Enea drove in Hilberth with a double to center of her own.

Right fielder Kelsey Bruder, who led the team with three hits and five RBIs, knocked a single to right field to drive in Enea, giving the Gators a 3-run lead.

"She was mixing it up really well, so my approach was just to sit back," Bruder said. "She was mixing in her changeup, too, so you had to have a good balance the whole way through."

In addition to their adjustments at the plate, the Gators also made some adjustments in the circle.

Pitcher Stacey Nelson (37-3, 0.43 ERA), who promised to give up fewer hits than the nine she allowed Texas A&M in UF's 7-1 victory Saturday, lived up to her word. Nelson only allowed three on the day &ndash one in each of the first three innings.

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"She started throwing some changeups early in the game, and that probably wasn't the adjustment we needed to make," Walton said. "So we went more to her screwball, curveball and dropball. She started to really tie their hands and became harder to hit after the first few innings."

On Saturday, the Gators scored 1 run in each of the first two innings, but the Aggies pulled to within 1 in the top of the fifth. UF responded with 2 runs in the bottom of the inning and 3 more in the sixth to defeat Texas A&M, which had knocked the Gators out of the postseason the last two years.

"If they score, we want to come back and start chipping away," said Hilberth, who led the team with 3 runs Saturday, 2 of which came after Texas A&M scored. "We've been fortunate to string some hits together in the last few games when they've scored. We've been able to answer back with the same amount or more."

The Gators had no need to make adjustments or come back Friday night, as they took down Florida A&M in a five-inning, 12-0 victory to start the regional off on the right foot.

"We needed to start out with a win," said pitcher Stephanie Brombacher, who got her 21st win of the season in the opener. "One win rolls into another, and we'll take that momentum into the next game and in to super regionals."

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