When junior Aleshia Ocasio connected with the pitch, it was clear where the ball was headed.
Her high, hard-hit shot over the right field wall caused Gators fans at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium to erupt into cheers, just as they had been doing the entire game.
Ocasio’s three-run homer in the fourth inning served as the exclamation point in Florida’s landslide 8-0 victory against Texas A&M in the opening contest of the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
The Gators scored in every single inning, a cue to an offense that is beginning to settle into a groove this postseason. Four different players tallied at least one RBI, and the team as a whole recorded eight base hits and six walked batters.
The scoring machine that was Florida’s lineup Thursday afternoon began with a double by junior Kayli Kvistad, her eighth hit of the postseason.
Two batters later, a single by Ocasio loaded the bases, setting up a two-RBI single from junior Janell Wheaton that set the tone early for Florida.
In the second inning, senior Justine McLean drove a single to left field and then proceeded to steal second base. Two walks later, the bases were loaded once again for UF, putting Texas A&M in another tough spot.
A fielding error by the Aggies then brought in two more runs to turn what many thought might be a close SEC showdown into a blowout Gator performance.
With another run scored in the third inning, Ocasio’s homer in the fourth put the game out of reach.
“We did want to make a statement,” Ocasio said in a release. “Hitting is contagious, and when Kayli Kvistad started that rally, we just kept the energy going and kept the momentum going.”
The St. Cloud, Florida, native has shown what she can do with the bat this postseason, recording at least one hit in all but three games.
The Florida rout also provided a nice cushion for sophomore Kelly Barnhill in the circle.
The recent recipient of the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year helped Florida reach its 39th shutout this season. She threw five strikeouts and gave up three hits while facing 16 batters.
After a single by the Aggies in the fifth inning, Barnhill was relieved by senior Delanie Gourley, who got the final outs to secure the win. The victory was the first run rule win in three years by any team in the Women’s College World Series.
“I think the key is when you have a shut-down pitcher like Kelly Barnhill or a shut-down pitcher like Delanie Gourley, get them a lead early, and it makes everybody feel a lot more comfortable and the swings can open up a little bit,” coach Tim Walton said in a release. “Give credit to our kids.”
No. 1-seeded Florida has moved into the winner’s side of its bracket, set to play again on Friday at 7 p.m. against No. 13 LSU.