Perrone Ford

Powers, Noles Relish 'Electric' Win Over Gators

Tim Linafelt | May 04, 2017

By Tim Linafelt Senior Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Alex Powers stepped to the plate and figured that she didn't really need to do much.

With a runner on third base and one out, Powers could simply lift the ball in the air for a sacrifice fly that would finally end No. 2 Florida State's extra-innings affair with No. 1 Florida.

Or she could put the ball on the ground and trust that speedy Korina Rosario could beat a throw home.

As long as Powers didn't strike out, the Seminoles would be in good shape.

“There were a lot of things to do to be successful in that position,” she said.

But why bother with any of those when you can just launch a no-doubt, walk-off home run instead?

Powers did just that on Wednesday night, crushing an 0-1 pitch from UF's Kelly Barnhill that sailed over the right-field wall and took with it a decade of frustration, close calls and disappointment at the hands of FSU's rival from Gainesville.

No. 2 Florida State 3, No. 1 Florida 1.

“It was a sweet one,” said Powers, who was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts prior to her home run. “Regardless of what happened, all the other at-bats, all the other innings, the tough plays, the tough calls, the tough swings, it's a great feeling.”

The latest great feeling in a season full of them.

FSU has climbed as high as No. 1 in the national rankings this season and recently polished off a perfect 24-0 campaign in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But, for all the program's success, the Seminoles still had one more box to check as the regular season neared its conclusion: They had to beat Florida.

The Seminoles hadn't done that since 2014 – Powers' freshman year – and, somewhat unbelievably, had topped the Gators just once in their previous 18 tries. That includes an 0-9 mark at home.

"It's a milestone in the sense of we've never played that well here (against Florida)," coach Lonni Alameda said. "Florida is Florida, and this is a big rivalry." 

Only fitting then that it was Powers, now a fifth-year senior, who vanquished the Seminoles' nemesis.

“It was electric,” Powers said. “I don't know how else to describe it.”

And it was the perfect exclamation point on one of the most memorable nights in the program's recent history.

It began a little bit before 5 p.m. – more than two hours before first pitch – when a few hundred fans lined up at the Seminole Softball Complex to secure their seats in the general-admission stadium.

By the time the game began, more than 2,000 others had filed in, with hundreds more lining both the street and parking garage beyond left field. 

Official attendance was 2,509, the largest crowd in program history.

“We've worked really hard here to build everything, every facet,” Alameda said. “So it's really cool that people are starting to see the excitement.

"And what a great game they got to see tonight.”

No kidding.

The two teams traded runs in the first inning, suggesting that a higher-scoring affair might be on the way.

Instead, three pitchers – UF's Barnhill and FSU's Jessica Burroughs and Meghan King – took turns in the spotlight while putting up zero after zero on the scoreboard.

Save for a solo homer served up to FSU slugger Jessica Warren, Barnhill was simply dominant.

The sophomore set a UF record by striking out 21 of the 38 batters she faced, and she didn't allow so much as a runner in scoring position until the seventh inning.

But Burroughs and King weren't far behind. 

The two combined to allow just six hits across 11 innings, with King throwing 83 pitches across the final 6 2/3 innings.

A sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, King surrendered only one extra-base hit – a one-out double in the top of the ninth – but worked around it by forcing UF's next two batters to ground out.

It was a big step forward from King's last outing against the Gators, when she allowed two hits and the game-winning run in one-third of an inning in Gainesville last month.

“I've struggled against Florida and I've honestly struggled in so many big games,” King said. “And I think just sticking through and taking one pitch at a time and taking those big breaths before each pitch, I think that's my key.”

The Gators wouldn't argue.

“We just weren't able to do a good job of putting together quality swings,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “They were ahead (in the count) all day. I think they were probably ahead 75 percent of the time. And it's tough to hit All-American-type pitchers when you're down in the count.”

At one point late in the game, a Florida fan in the crowd said to a friend, “In the long run, this game doesn't mean all that much.”

And, in a way, he was right. Both teams are already among the best in the country, both have their postseason positions secured and both have much broader goals than just beating the other in the first week of May. 

But everything else at JoAnne Graf Field on Wednesday, from the energy in the crowd to the way Powers jumped her way around the bases before greeting her teammates at home plate, suggested otherwise.

There might not be a bigger stage - or a bigger victory - this side of the Women's College World Series.

“There's a different pressure when you play Florida. For us to be able to stand up and rise up and stay in the process against an amazing pitcher, it's good.”



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