DAYTONA, Fla. – The Florida Gators and Team NPF, composed of players from the four National Pro Fastpitch organizations, met for the second consecutive year in fall ball play Wednesday as part of the NPF’s Back to School Tour, this time in Daytona, Fla., at Daytona State’s softball complex. In a back and forth battle between the two squads, the NPF All-Stars came out on top with a 6-4 victory, but not without a fight and rally from Florida.
The Gators scattered runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings, while the NPF powered by with a six-run third inning. Jamee Juarez went the distance for Team NPF in the circle, tossing the full 7.0, allowing all four of UF’s runs and 10 hits, while fanning eight Gators.
Florida picked the combination of sophomore Hannah Rogers and freshman Lauren Haeger, who both tossed three innings for the Orange and Blue. Rogers gave up eight hits and all six NPF runs, while fanning two and Haeger provided 3.0 innings of scoreless relief.
Haeger also led the Gators at the plate, going 3-for-4, while Andrea Duran went 3-for-4 and Roya St. Clair went 2-for-3 at the plate for Team NPF.
After a hitless and scoreless first inning, Haeger, a Phoenix, Ariz., native, connected for the first hit of the contest with one out on the board against the Gators. Haeger proceeded to swipe second, moving herself into scoring position, but Juarez fanned UF’s next two batters swinging to prevent any scoring opportunities.
After allowing a leadoff hit in the bottom of the second from Bianca Mejia, UF turned an impressive double play with Brittany McKinney at the plate from Rogers to short stop Cheyenne Coyle, who tagged second, to Haeger at first to put two immediate outs on the board and clear the bases. The NPF battled back, though, loading the bases on a Francesca Enea walk, followed by a Jenn Salling hit-by-pitch and a Brittany Schutte catcher’s interference. Rogers and the UF defense stayed calm, rallying for a St. Clair groundout to retire the side.
Florida put up the first run of the contest in the top of the third inning with bases loaded when Michelle Moultrie crossed home from third following a fielding error by Mejia at first, but Team NPF retired the side when Mejia connected for St. Clair to toss out Gator freshman Sami Fagan, who tried to follow in Moultrie’s stride, at home.
Team NPF made it a seven-hit, six-run third inning capitalizing on a Mejia two-run shot in the midst of a five-hit strand to take a 6-1 lead following three frames. Duran got the scoring run started with a two-RBI stand-up double, scoring herself and leadoff hitter Caitlyn Lowe, and St. Clair put up the final two runs of the rally with a two-RBI single through the right side. Rogers forced a fly out to get out of the inning.
It wasn’t over for the Gators as the Orange and Blue battled back to narrow the margin, 6-3, on a Coyle two-run shot over the left-center fence with no outs on the board, but Team NPF’s defense held up to halt the scoring at two UF runs in the third.
The Gators went with Haeger in the circle in the fourth inning, proving to be the smart choice as Florida held Team NPF scoreless in the bottom of the frame. The NPF carried a 6-3 lead to the fifth, but UF continued to chip away at the lead, courtesy of a Schutte leadoff solo shot that brought UF within two, 6-4.
After scoreless fifth and sixth innings, UF had one last chance at the top of the seventh to tie or take the lead, when Schutte and freshman Bailey Castro connected for one-out singles to put runners on first and second. Juarez caught Haeger swinging for the second out, bringing up Coyle, who battled at the plate but eventually grounded out to third for the final out of the game, resulting in a 6-4 NPF victory.