Florida softball wins doubleheader over California, headed to second consecutive Women's College World Series
When the Florida women's softball team won its NCAA Super Regional last season to advance to the Women's College World Series, the Gator celebration was so subdued even head coach Tim Walton questioned if his team had fully comprehended the magnitude of what it had accomplished.
So Sunday afternoon at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, the Gators had it all planned out. If they won the NCAA Gainesville Super Regiona., there would be a real celebration.
And when senior pitcher Stacey Nelson struck out Cal's Sati Houston in the bottom of the seventh to give Florida a 2-1 win over Cal in the second game of a doubleheader, the Gators (60-3) rushed to the mound for a joyful celebrationm dogpile-style, befitting a team headed to its second consecutive Women's College World Series.
"We've been planning what we were going to do,'' second baseman Aja Paculba said of the postgame celebration. "Last year we kind of just jumped up and down and didn't really do anything. This year we said we're going all out. And I think it was really fun this way.''
Florida won the first game Sunday morning, 2-0, aided by Paculba, who had a leadoff home run in the game.
Nelson, one of three candidates for National Player of the Year, earned the win in both games. She came into the second game in the third inning in relief of sophomore Stephanie Brombacher.
Walton said the decision to bring in his ace wasn't difficult. His mindset at the time?
"We had a lead, we weren't swinging the bat as well as we need to, this is going to be all we're going to score, maybe, we can't give up any more runs,'' Walton said.
Nelson came in in relief with the leadoff runner on second and no outs in the third. She retired the side with two strikeouts and a groundout.
"I knew we had a job to do,'' Nelson said. "We had a lead and we needed to hold it. I just tried to calm myself down, because I was fired up, and I just hit my spots.''
Nelson (39-3), gave up two hits and had six strikeouts in five innings in the second game; in the first game, she gave up four hits, but had 13 strikeouts and a 0.41 ERA.
The return to the WCWS is what most expected from opening day for the Gators, who lost just one starter off last season's team that fell one game short of the national championship game. But it hasn't been an easy road, the players said.
"We knew every team we played was going to be gunning for us because we were ranked No. 1 for a lot of the season,'' said senior catcher Kristina Hilberth, of Dunnedin. "So it's really great to go back to the World Series after every team was gunning for us from day one,''
No. 1 Florida will play No. 9 Arizona Thursday, at 9 p.m., in the first round of the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
"I think it's better this year than it was last year, for sure,'' Paculba said. "We know what the whole deal is about now. We know what we need to do to be successful.''