GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Red, White and Blue edged out No. 11 Florida in front of a crowd of 1,935 Gator Nation proud fans. Warm welcome homes resonated throughout the stadium to 2012 Florida grad Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.) and 2016 graduates Aubree Munro (Brea, Calif.) and Kelsey Stewart (Wichita, Kan.) in their first return to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium since their days in the Gator uniform.
“It was a fantastic night for our three players that attended the University of Florida,” said WNT Head Coach, Ken Eriksen. “It’s important to recognize those athletes at our college tour stops. It’s also important for our pitching staff to continue to develop and attack hitters. Monica was stellar tonight and gave the fans a great show. I know our players can’t wait to get back at it tomorrow against Liberty.”
While the U.S. led through the majority of the game, in the final two frames Florida’s offense came alive to bring the home crowd to their feet. Challenging the U.S. pitching staff, timely hitting by the Gator batters brought the game within two runs, with Team USA able to edge the hometown team 5-3.
The offenses were stifled until Hannah Flippen (San Diego, Calif.) doubled in the top of the second inning to put the first runner of the game on base with two outs, but a ground out stalled the offense. That didn’t last long for Team USA, however, as the U.S. plated four runs in the top of the third. Back-to-back walks to Stewart and Haylie McCleney (Morris, Ala.) with one out put two on for Janie Reed (Placentia, Calif.), who singled up the middle to load the bases. A ground ball back to the pitcher looked to once again quiet the U.S. offense until Ali Aguilar (Orangevale, Calif.) singled up the middle to plate two. After Valerie Arioto (Pleasanton, Calif.) was hit by a pitch to load the bases again, Flippen followed with the third ground ball up the middle of the at-bat to make it 4-0, USA.
Monica Abbott (Salinas, Calif.), who got the start in the circle for Team USA, kept dealing heat in the bottom of the third, striking out the side for nine strikeouts on the night. The Gators would put their first runner on base in the bottom of the fourth after an error put the leadoff runner on, but two line outs and a strikeout halted the Gator rally.
Team USA added to their lead in the top of the fifth after Reed led off with a single and came around to score on a double off the left-center wall by Aguilar. The U.S. loaded the bases again in the top of the sixth inning after three walks with one out, but a nicely snagged ground ball to third resulted in a double play to end the at-bat.
Rachel Garcia (Palmdale, Calif.) entered the circle for Abbott in the bottom of the sixth inning and quickly induced a popup before a bunt for a single put a runner on. Florida got on the board after home run cleared the bases, cutting Team USA’s lead to 5-2.
Another bases-loaded situation for the Red, White and Blue came in their final at-bat after Aguilar walked, Arioto reached on a fielding error and a walk to Bubba Nickles (Merced, Calif.) with two outs. A popup in foul territory stranded the runners, bringing Florida to their final at-bat of the game.
Keilani Ricketts (San Jose, Calif.) took over pitching duties in the bottom of the seventh for Team USA and issued a leadoff walk before firing back with a strikeout. With another walk issued to put two on base, Garcia reentered the circle and a double to the left-center gap cut the lead to two runs. Abbott reentered the game with two on and one out, quickly striking out the next batter faced before a walk loaded the bases. The game looked to be interesting after a hard-hit ball towards the right-center gap, by McCleney quickly snagged the ball for the final out of the game.
Aguilar, Flippen and Reed each finished the night with two hits apiece while Aguilar drove in three runs and Flippen drove in a pair. Abbott retired 13 batters via the strikeout while Ricketts picked up one strikeout.
Team USA returns to action on the “Stand Beside Her” tour, presented by MLB, in ESPN Events’ St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational in Clearwater, Fla. Opening the tournament with a 6 p.m. ET contest on February 12 against Liberty, Team USA will close the tournament with a 10 a.m. ET contest against No. 16 Oklahoma State and a 12 p.m. ET game against No. 1 Washington on Sunday, February 16.
Fans at home can follow along with the action at USASoftball.com.