GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Lehigh’s run through the Gainesville regional came to an end on Sunday as the top-ranked Florida Gators eliminated the Mountain Hawks with a 9-0 victory at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The Mountain Hawks hung tough with the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed through three innings before the Gators erupted to score nine times in the final four frames. Florida moves on to the Super Regionals next weekend against California, while Lehigh’s season comes to an end at 38-18-1.
Led by senior Lisa Sweeney, the Mountain Hawks kept the game close through the first three innings. Sweeney retired the first six Gators she faced and held Florida without a hit through the first three innings.
Offensively, Lehigh had its chances early in the game. With two outs in the bottom of the first, freshman Julie Fernandez reached on an error and Sweeney followed with a sharp single to left to put runners on first and second, but Florida ace Stacey Nelson got senior Alisha Gonzales to fly out to left field to end the threat.
Lehigh picked up a second runner when sophomore Mickey LaValley blooped a single to right in the second inning and added a third hit when freshman Audra Wood led off with an infield single, but Lehigh’s third-inning rally was thwarted when Wood over-slid the second base bag on a stolen base attempt.
“We had a chance to put some early pressure on them after getting a couple of early hits,” said Lehigh head coach Fran Troyan. “We made some mistakes, like over-sliding the bag at second that would have enabled us to put some pressure on them. Florida is the number one team for a reason, and we knew we were going to have to play a flawless game to stay competitive. “
Florida (58-3) shook off a slow start to take the lead with two runs in the top of the fourth. Kristina Hilberth led off the inning with a double off Wood’s glove in left center. Two batters later, Francesca Enea lined a double off the centerfield fence to score Hilberth and put the Gators on top. Kelsey Bruder followed with a single to right field, scoring Enea to put Florida up 2-0.
In the sixth, the Gators added to their lead with four more runs, on a two-run single by Bruder and a two-run home run off the bat of Corrie Brooks. Florida tacked on three more in the seventh, as Bruder capped a 3-for-4 five RBI day with an RBI double.
“Give Florida credit,” said Sweeney, who finishes her career with a Patriot League record 94 wins and 928 strikeouts. “They’re the number one team for a reason. We played well, but the way they swing the bats one-through-nine, we knew that we were going to have to put up some runs.”
Nelson took care of the rest in the circle, retiring the final 14 Mountain Hawks after Wood’s third inning single. The nation’s leader in ERA, Nelson fired a three-hitter for her 19th shutout of the season to move to 36-3 on the season. Nelson struck out seven Mountain Hawks and did not walk a batter.
Sweeney went the first six innings-plus for Lehigh, allowing six runs on six hits. She ends her season at 23-10 after walking three Gators and striking out four in a losing effort.