TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Freshman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), pinch hitting in the top of the eighth for the Orange and Blue, ripped her sixth blast of the season over the left-center fence on a full count to take the Gator softball team up 2-1 over Tennessee and propel UF to its first SEC Tournament Championship Game appearance since winning it all in 2009. With UF’s semifinal victory over the Lady Vols, Florida head coach Tim Walton reached career milestone win No. 500 in just his 10th season as a head coach (500-154; .765), becoming the fastest active coach in the SEC to accomplish the feat.
First pitch for the 2012 SEC Tournament Championship Game Saturday has been moved to 12 p.m. (CT) / 1 p.m. (ET) due to the threat of inclement weather in Tuscaloosa Saturday evening. The game will now air live on ESPN2, with the call by Beth Mowins, Jessica Mendoza and Michele Smith and Holly Rowe reporting on the sidelines.
Freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) was a perfect 4-for-4 on the day to tie a SEC Tournament record for most hits in a game, accounting for a career-best four of UF’s six hits on the afternoon – the other two belonging to Castro and sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (West Hills, Calif.). Coyle knocked a RBI single to center field to plate UF’s third-inning and game-tying run. S. Fagan extended her team-leading hit streak to nine games, the longest for a Gator this season, while racking up her 23rd multiple-hit performance of the season.
Florida (46-10) moved to 4-0 this season in extra-inning games, and defeated the Lady Vols (46-10) for the fifth time in the SEC Tournament for its 19th league tourney win all-time. The Orange and Blue have won six of the last seven meetings with Tennessee after sweeping UT last year to win the SEC Eastern Division and taking two-of-three in Knoxville earlier this season.
The Gators will play the winner of Alabama-Georgia, currently being played at Rhoads Stadium on the Bama campus. Florida last played in the tournament championship game in 2009, walking away with the SEC Tournament title after defeating Auburn, Tennessee, then Alabama. UF also won the SEC Tournament in 2008, having played in the finale four times, finishing as the runner-up in 1997 and 2007.
UF sophomore ace Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) worked for the Gators in the circle, tossing a complete seven innings, allowing just four hits and no earned runs, while walking and fanning two Lady Vols. Freshman Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) came on in relief for her second save of the season to finish out the extra inning in the bottom of the eighth with a frame of hitless, scoreless relief, retiring UT in order to close it out.
Sisters Ivy and Ellen Renfroe teamed up for Tennessee in the circle, with Ivy earning the start and working 7.1 innings for UT, succumbing to UF’s six hits and two runs – one of which was earned. I. Renfroe fanned four Gators and dished out two free passes. E. Renfroe came on for the final two outs in the eighth inning,
Tennessee got on the board first in the bottom of the initial stanza when leadoff Raven Chavanne singled up the middle, swiped second and then scurried home unearned with one out on the board, capitalizing on UF’s lone defensive error of the day. Florida then knotted the tilt in the third with a two-out rally, started by S. Fagan, who connected for her second hit of the day before advancing to second on a passed ball. Coyle, batting in the two-hole for the second day in a row, roped a one-run base hit over I. Renfroe’s jumping infield reach that landed in center to plate S. Fagan and knot the game at one-all.
The pitcher’s duel carried through the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh frames before setting up Castro’s heroics for UF’s ninth come-from-behind win of the season to send the Orange and Blue to Saturday’s championship game.