Gators Sweep SEC Tourney and Season

Hannah Rogers

For the third time in program history, the Florida Gators softball team has swept SEC titles both for the regular season and the post-season tournament. The Gators used several extra-base hits after falling from behind to Missouri to add another trophy to the trophy case and move to 52-7 on the year.

Florida's 10-4 victory was one of 18 this year where the Gators came from behind to win the game. They did it off of several extra-base hits including a couple of two-run shots from senior Kelsey Horton and freshman center fielder Kirsti Merritt.

Florida head coach Tim Walton was appreciative of the win, one that has been a long time coming for his team who has been ranked high for the last few years but unable to win the league or the tournament. His team also fought through bad weather on the weekend to make things happen.

"I'm proud of my players of how they competed and how they composed themselves," Walton said. "The celebration you saw was long overdue. The celebration on the field was more of a carryover from last week's championship to this week's championship… I'm proud to be the coach of this team and how they compete. I'm thankful that we got it done."

Missouri got the lead early with an RBI double in the first and solo home run in the second, going up 2-0 on the 2/3 ranked and tournament top-seed Gators.

Horton would tie it up quickly in the bottom half of the second with her two-run bomb, scoring starting sophomore pitcher Lauren Haeger after earning a walk to get on the base paths.

Horton was struggling during the tournament until late in the win against Georgia on Friday.

"I think I was having some pretty good at bats this weekend," Horton said. "I just wasn't getting hits. It boosted my confidence, towards the end of the Georgia game, getting some hits. I felt confidence going into tonight against Mizzou and not worrying about who was pitching, just worrying about myself really helped me out tonight."

With the Tigers going to the bullpen in the third, Florida quickly took advantage. The 2-2 tie was suddenly 4-2 in favor of the Gators when freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart walked to lead off the inning and Merritt hit her big shot causing Missouri to go to their third pitcher of the evening. Merritt would go on to earn SEC Tournament MVP honors.

"Coach (Walton) has been working with us on hitting," Merritt said of her team which scored 27 runs in three games during the tournament. "We hit almost every day. It wasn't surprising that we're all hitting so well. It was exciting that we came out here and did our thing."

The Gators added two more in the fourth inning when Stewart hit her ninth triple of the season scoring two runs.

Junior pitcher Hannah Rogers came on to start the fifth inning and found herself in a little trouble before battling back. Rogers gave up consecutive doubles to start the inning, before three straight outs and Missouri was a little closer with a 6-3 score in the fifth.

In the bottom half of the fifth, junior Stephanie Tofft added a score for the Gators again with a lead-off home run. The Tigers countered with a home run of their own in the top of the sixth, but their fourth run would be their last. The Gators were up 7-4 after five and a half innings. .

Tofft would add an RBI single and Haeger added a two-RBI double for the last three runs in the bottom of the sixth and the final 10-4 score.

Haeger (4.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K) moved to 15-2 and got the win, while Rogers (3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) finished with her fourth save of the season. .

The 2013 SEC Coach of the Year, Walton knew that Missouri was a tough team to face regardless of the circumstance.

"I told my team before the game that no matter how many we are down or ahead to make sure you keep going and not get caught up in the score," Walton said. "This Missouri team has been down and scored a ton. They also have the blood in the water mentality, as they will pound you once they sense you are down. We just tried to focus on our at bats."

The Gators placed three freshmen on the All-Tournament team in Merritt, Stewart, and first baseman Taylor Schwartz. Tofft was the only upper-classman on the All-Tournament team.

The team put on an exhibition in celebration after the game and Horton explained why.

"I've been here four years on some really good teams, and we haven't won an SEC title or an SEC Tournament Title yet so I'm so happy my senior year, I could go out that way."

The Gators will be up late Sunday to see who they will face in the NCAA Tournament. ESPNU will televise the selection show at 10 p.m. Eastern

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