GAINESVILLE — The much anticipated rematch of last season's NCAA region softball final has been set, and Florida and USF will once again battle it out for the right to advance to the NCAA Super Region.
After losing 11-1 to the Gators (54-7) on Saturday afternoon in the first game of the Gainesville Region, USF (45-15) survived a nine-inning thriller at night, defeating Georgia Southern 2-1 to advance to today's 1 p.m. region final against Florida.
"I think it goes without saying that Georgia Southern's kids played their butts off," USF coach Ken Eriksen said. "They were relentless in that game."
The Bulls took a 1-0 lead in the second. Georgia Southern, which earlier defeated Hampton 3-0 to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament, tied it in the sixth after a leadoff triple by Alexa Lewis, who later scored off a single from Shelby Morrill.
As he has so many times this season, Eriksen relied on the one-two combination of pitchers Sara Nevins and Lindsey Richardson, and Richardson came up huge in the bottom of the eighth.
The senior entered the game with the bases loaded and one out, struck out Kaitlyn Johnson looking, then on a full count forced A.J. Hamilton into a 4-3 play to end the inning.
"I kind of made a deal with God: This is not how I'm going out, this isn't going to be it for me," Richardson said. "And I was pretty confident in everybody behind me, and I knew if I just did my job, it was going to happen."
In the ninth, Dani Wayt singled, then stole third and scored the winning run on a throwing error by Hamilton, the catcher.
It was a much different story for the Bulls in the first game as Florida dominated.
Sophomore Lauren Haeger hit a three-run homer in the first to give Florida a 3-1 lead, then the Gators added five runs in the second on its way to an easy five-inning victory. Haeger was 2-for-2 and tied a school single-game record with seven RBIs as the Gators chased Nevins, a former Pinellas Park High standout, after 1⅓ innings.
Florida's Hannah Rogers went five innings with six strikeouts and gave up one hit.
"Now it's a dogfight on our hands, and we have to be ready to play (South Florida)," UF coach Tim Walton said.
Eriksen said the Bulls need to be mistake-free today, when they need to beat the Gators twice to reach the 16-team Super Region.
"We have to play flawless softball against the No. 2 (seed) in the country," he said. "There's a reason they are No. 2. They are a great team. … We need to learn from what we did today. … We are hoping to be in Game 2 to give us a shot to continue to go on."
Florida State stays unbeaten in region
MOBILE, Ala. — Maddie O'Brien of Palm Harbor University High drove in both runs and Lacey Waldrop struck out 10 in a complete game as Florida State (43-16) defeated host and No. 13 seed South Alabama 2-1 to reach the championship and a rematch in its NCAA region.
O'Brien had her 10th home run this season and added an RBI single in the sixth off of Hannah Campbell (22-8), the nation's ERA leader at 0.84.
Waldrop (24-8) had her second win in two days and allowed only one walk, in the seventh inning, when the Jaguars (46-8) scored their run. Waldrop has the most victories in a season by a Seminole since Terese Gober had the same number in 2009.
The Seminoles face South Alabama again today at 4:30 and FSU only needs to win one of two to reach the Super Region.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Information from Times wires was used in this report.