Gainesville, FL -- Freshman righty Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) tossed a two-hit shutout and classmate Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) slapped a one-run bouncer through the middle for Florida's fifth-inning score as the Gator softball team defeated the No. 6 seed LSU, 1-0, to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals in Tuscaloosa.
The seventh-ranked Gators will play the winner of Tennessee-Auburn, currently being played at Rhoads Stadium on the Alabama campus, as UF advances to the semifinal round for the first time since 2010. Florida last played in the tournament championship game in 2009, walking away with the SEC Tournament title after defeating Auburn, Tennessee, then Alabama.
First pitch for Florida's semifinal game will be 2 p.m. (CT) Friday, as the contest will air live on ESPNU, with the call by Beth Mowins, Jessica Mendoza, Michele Smith and Holly Rowe.
Haeger worked her 11th complete game of the year to improve to 14-4 on the season, fanning eight LSU batters, her most since nine against LSU in the nightcap of the double dip April 24, while walking five. In the opposing dugout, Brittany Mack earned the start for the Tigers, allowing UF's two hits and one run, while walking three and fanning four through five innings.
S. Fagan broke up Mack's no-hitter with her RBI single in the fifth for UF's first hit of the game, capitalizing on an opportunity after a freshman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) leadoff walk. Castro led off the inning with four straight balls to reach base, while pinch runner, freshman Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.), took over on the base paths for Castro. A freshman Katie Medina (Downey, Calif.) sac bunt moved Little into scoring position at second before a fly out put two down for UF, but turned over the Gator lineup. Sami connected for her seventh game-winning RBI of the season to put Florida in the driver's seat the rest of the way.
Haeger then helped her cause with a leadoff base hit in the bottom of the sixth, spurring a pitching change for the Tigers from Mack to Rachele Fico. Fico was effective, with two strikeouts to retire UF after a sac bunt from junior Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.).
Louisiana State connected for two hits, a Morgan Russell single to left in the second frame and a Cassie Trosclair infield hit off Haeger's glove in the fifth. Haeger left the bases loaded with a swinging K in the second to keep the momentum in UF's favor. Mack (14-11) shouldered the loss for the Tigers.
Thursday's victory marked UF's 18th all-time in SEC Tournament play and the Gators' second victory over LSU in three meetings this season. All three games were decided by one run, as UF won the first game of April 24th's doubleheader, 2-1, in eight innings, while LSU took game two, 1-0.
The win Thursday also brought Florida head coach Tim Walton within one win of career milestone win No. 500. Walton is now 499-154 (.764) through his nine-year head coaching career - seven of those at Florida.
For fans unable to tune in on television as the Gators continue play in the league tourney, Florida fans can tune in live locally on the radio or online to 105 The Game, WYGC 104.9-FM, with Adam Schick on the call or follow live stats through Gametracker, accessible on the GatorZone.com softball schedule page.
For all game notes, stats and recaps, be sure to visit www.GatorZone.com
Head Coach Tim Walton
"Great opening round, obviously, it was very similar in style to the games we played last time in Gainesville a couple of weeks ago - two good pitching staffs. I thought that both pitchers really did a good job. (Rachele) Fico came in for them at the end and did a good job. It was kind of what I expected; it was a low-scoring game, with good pitching and good defense. Whoever got the biggest, timeliest hit - obviously Sami Fagan was able to get that for us - that was key. I thought our approach was good. With the two different styles of pitchers, they did a good job."
On what he wanted to get across to his team the past few days after the Alabama series:
"I didn't think we played particularly well on Saturday, but I thought we played well on Sunday. I thought we played well on Friday. Facing a team like that, in an environment like that was good. I thought we responded really well. I think Lauren Haeger said it best yesterday when she said our team had some fight, and they showed fight. They showed some energy and some passion. With that, she got the start today."
On if he was worried about not scoring:
"I guess you could say yes. If you can get it to the spot where the first five hitters were in a scoring position, obviously you feel a little more confident based on their scoring averages and on-base percentages and chances. I just think sometimes it's wrong player/wrong time. We're trying to get some of those younger players used to it. Katie Medina scorched the ball. She hit the ball hard. It was nice to see her hit the ball hard even though it was a double play. It was still a good bases loaded at-bat for her. We're just trying to season these players into understanding the "lose and go home" mentality. It changes your swing a little bit."
#17, Lauren Haeger, Pitcher
On what was working for her today:
"I was excited to get the start. I hadn't had a start all weekend, and I felt good that Coach had confidence in me to have the ball the first round in the first game. I was hitting my spots really well and getting ahead, which is something that I've been working on for a while."
On when she found out she'd be starting:
"I found out when we were warming up. Coach (Jennifer) Rocha came up to me and told me I was starting. From then on, I just had to have my mind set and my mind right."
On what this does for her confidence:
"It always helps coming out with the win and pitching well. It always helps with confidence. I've just worked really hard this season, making adjustments so that I could help my team in the postseason after struggling at the beginning of the season."
#51, Sami Fagan, 3B
On what practice has been like the past few days:
"I think every practice we have the same mindset. We're just attacking every part of our game and getting ready for the team that we're going to play."
On what it felt like to break through and not have a long game:
"Before my at-bat, Coach (Tim Walton) and I talked and we made a game plan for that at-bat. I was just trying to execute it as well as possible. It felt really good not to have to go to extra innings."
On what the game plan was:
"He asked me if I was going to hit or slap. I said slap and he said that the shortstop was playing over, so I should try to slap it up the middle. That's what I did."