Seven innings wasn’t enough to separate two of the top teams in the SEC on Friday night. Florida (26-2, 3-1 SEC) needed one more inning to top Tennessee (22-5, 2-2 SEC) 6-5 at Katie Seashole Pressely Stadium in front of UF’s largest home crowd of the year.
Florida junior pitcher Hannah Rogers (1.28 ERA) threw 92 pitches in front of the crowd of 1,044 and picked up her 14th win on the year in the process. Despite giving up a two-run homer to Tennessee’s Cheyanne Tarango (.347, 7 HR, 30 RBI) in the top of the first, Rogers was able to settle down and keep the Volunteers off the board for the next two innings. Rogers says her teammates calmed her down and helped her find her groove.
The Gators answered back with two runs of their own in the bottom half of the frame. After leadoff Kelsey Stewart (.409, 29 R, 23 SB) got on base, the next two Florida batters were retired easily. A two out rally keyed by two hits and two walks allowed Stewart and OF Briana Little to cross the plate, tying the game up at two apiece.
But the fast start offensively for both teams wouldn’t last. Over the next four innings, both teams struggled to get runners on base.
However in the bottom of the sixth, with the score tied at 3-3, things got interesting. Tennessee pitcher Ivy Renfroe (9-1, 1.23 ERA) ran into some trouble after allowing a leadoff single to Florida OF Kelsey Horton. After a bunt allowed Horton to advance to second, Renfroe walked Gator 1B Taylor Schwarz. An infield grounder from pinch hitter Ensley Gammel left Tennessee 3B Raven Chavanne with no other play than to take the out at first.
With two outs and runners on second and third, Gators head coach Tim Walton called on Bailey Castro to pinch hit for C Aubree Munro. With a 1-1 count on Castro, Renfroe sent a pitch over her catcher’s head and into the backstop allowing Horton’s run to score from third. Later on in the inning, a Kelsey Stewart RBI single would also bring in Schwarz.
Up 5-3, Florida was only three outs away from victory when Walton made the decision to pull starting pitcher Hannah Rogers from the game in favor of sophomore Lauren Haeger (7-1, 2.03 ERA). After Haeger recorded two quick outs, things looked bleak for the Volunteers.
But a four-pitch walk to Tennessee leadoff Ravane Chavanne would give Tennessee life and bring Lauren Gibson up to the plate with a runner on first and two out. With a 2-1 count, Gibson sent a Haeger fastball screaming over the right-centerfield fence for a game-tying two-run homer.
Even after the game, Walton wasn’t ready to talk about his decision to bench Rogers.
After eventually getting out of the inning, Florida still had an opportunity to win in regulation. But three quick outs would send the game into extras.
In the top half of the eighth, Hannah Rogers returned to the mound for Florida to finish what she started. After recording a 1-2-3 inning, the Gators came up to bat looking to put the game on ice.
Shortstop Katie Medina got things started for the Orange and Blue with a double to right-center, before Tennessee opted to bring in Cheyanne Tarango to replace Renfroe (7.0 IP, 6 ER, 5 K) at pitcher.
Tarango (3-2, 1.26 ERA) immediately gave up a single to pinch hitter Taylore Fuller before walking Kelsey Stewart to load up the bases. That brought Stephanie Tofft up to the plate with no outs. Tofft worked the count to 3-1 before Tarango missed high and walked in the winning run from third.
The Gators still have two more games against Tennessee this weekend. Getting the ball for Florida on Saturday will likely be freshman Alyssa Bache (5-0, 0.82 ERA). Opposing her for Tennesse will be Ellen Renfroe, the sister of Friday’s starting pitcher Ivy. In last year’s meeting between these two teams, Ellen Renfroe fanned 15 Gators on her way to pitching a 3-hit shutout. Walton says she’s a quality pitcher and his team will have their work cut out for them.
As for who will start for the Gators on Sunday, that remains up in the air. Haeger usually starts one game for Florida in a three-game series and Walton says despite her poor outing tonight (1.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER), he still has confidence in her.
First pitch on Saturday is at 11am and Sunday’s game starts at 1pm.