GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gator pitchers Aleshia Ocasio and Kelly Barnhill combined for a one-hit shutout as the No. 1-seeded University of Florida softball team blanked Alabama State, 11-0, in its NCAA Tournament opener on Friday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
A nine-run splurge in the third propelled the Orange and Blue (54-5) to its 33rd NCAA Regional win and Florida's fire in the circle held off the Hornets (28-26) in the run-rule win. Ocasio (21-1) hurled the first four innings, giving up just one hit and fanning seven of 13 batters faced. Barnhill capped off the fifth with just one walk and three strikeouts.
After a one-out base hit in the second for the Hornets -- their first and only hit of the afternoon -- Ocasio fanned the next two batters for five Ks through two innings, and followed that with a perfect third to set up Florida's seven hit, nine-run show in the bottom of the stanza.
The second time around the batting order was a charm for the Gators, who batted around in the third for the 9-0 lead.
Senior Taylore Fuller led it off, turning the lineup over with a four-pitch walk before back-to-back singles from senior Kelsey Stewart and freshman Amanda Lorenz plated Florida's first score. Sophomore Kayli Kvistad loaded the bases on another four-pitch walk and senior Kirsti Merritt took one for the team with her 71st career hit-by-pitch to bring in the Gators' second run.
Sophomore Nicole DeWitt put her stamp on the inning with a bases-clearing triple -- the second three-bagger of her career -- to push the UF advantage to 5-0. Sophomore Janell Wheaton and Ocasio followed with base hits to set up a Fuller two-run double down the left-field line her second time around in the frame. Stewart ended Florida's scoring in the third with a two-run single.
Florida scored the game's final two runs in the fifth on a Wheaton RBI double and an Aubree Munro fielder's choice.
With Friday's tourney-opening win against the Hornets, the Gators move on to face the UCF Knights on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
Florida continues NCAA Regional play on Saturday at 12 p.m. against the UCF Knights, who defeated FAU 1-0 in the first game of the Gainesville Regional Friday afternoon. The game will be broadcast on one of the ESPN family of networks,