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Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Gators have shown their ability to make adjustments and take over a game 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 Super Regionals.

UF will face California next weekend at home, a rematch of last year's Super Regional, which the Gators won in two games.

Lehigh pitcher Lisa Sweeney (23-10, 2.15 ERA) allowed only one baserunner in the first three innings, 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 slow 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 adjustments 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."

With the adjustments having sparked its bats, UF added 4 more runs in the sixth and 3 in the seventh to seal the deal.

Three of those runs were record-breakers for the Gators, as second baseman Aja Paculba's 2 runs gave her 64 on the year, a new single-season runs record, breaking Kim Waleszonia's mark of 62 set last year. Third baseman Corrie Brooks' home run to left field in the sixth was the team's 80th of the year, breaking the Southeastern Conference record for home runs in a single season.

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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 Saturday that she would give up fewer than nine hits, lived up to her word. Nelson only allowed three on the day &ndash one in each of the first three innings.

"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."

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