GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The game was supposed to start at noon, but the May rains of North Florida pushed back Sunday's NCAA Tournament regional championship round to a 7:04 p.m. first pitch. If only Aleshia Ocasio had been properly prepared for such a delay.
Moments before her first deliver from the circle, Ocasio realized she wasn't wearing her wrist band that holds the card with the coaches' pitching-sign codes.
"I can't blame the delay," she said. "I just forgot."
It was the only mistake "Lele" made all night.
After walking to the dugout to get the band, removing the card from her back pocket and the sliding it onto her wrist, Ocasio went to work like no Gator pitcher had ever done before in NCAA play. Not Stacey Nelson. Not Stephanie Brombacher. Not Hannah Rodgers. Not Lauren Haeger. Not even flame-throwing teammate Kelly Barnhill.
"Phenomenal," teammate Amanda Lorenz said. "And nasty."
Lorenz was watching from left field, so imagine what Ohio State's batters were thinking as Ocasio mowed through their order, striking out a season-high 12, on the way to throwing the first seven-inning postseason no-hitter in UF softball history, a 4-0 shutout victory at Pressly Stadium. Florida pitchers had thrown no-hitters in NCAA play before (Barnhill and Ocasio, in fact, combined for one Friday in five innings against Bethune-Cookman), but in mercy-rule games versus overmatched opponents.
This was a Big Ten Conference foe, for a full seven innings, on a night her own team only managed two hits and couldn't really breathe easy until a two-run rally in the sixth.
Ocasio had magnificent control with her low-ball location and wicked change-up, as only three Buckeyes reached base, all on walks. Oh, and she also had half her team's four RBI, as the fourth-ranked Gators (53-8), the tournament's No. 4 overall seed, clinched a home Super Region next weekend and continued their quest for a ninth trip to the Women's College World Series in the last 11 seasons.
"One of the best games I've seen her throw," UF coach Tim Walton said.
Consider the circumstances.
The team had a 7 a.m. wake-up call to get to the ballpark to prepare for the game. Halfway through their stretch, the players got word of the delay as a giant (and wet) front rolled in from the south. Radar showed basically the entire Florida peninsula covered in green (that's bad), and for the next several hours the Gators were mostly holed up in their locker room playing games, listening to music, and waiting for NCAA reps (and ESPN) to decided if a game was in their immediate futures.
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"I give our players credit for doing what they needed to do to stay focused," Walton said.
For Ocasio, it began with a solid bullpen session and carried over from there. By the time the game began, temperatures were a comfortable 74 degrees, but Ocasio was ready to throw some heat.
She retired 20 of the first 21 she faced, save a two-out walk in the second inning. Yes, the circumstances were in the back of her mind as the outs mounted.
"It's hard for a pitcher to say they don't think about it, but every pitcher thinks about it," Ocasio said of the brewing no-no. "I was just trying to throw my best pitch every single time."
The Gators, meanwhile, weren't exactly clubbing Ohio State starter Shelby McCombs, but they maintained their trademark patience at the plate to draw 11 walks, including three in the first inning, the last coming to Hannah Adams with the bases loaded to give Ocasio an early 1-0 cushion.
UF didn't have a hit through the first five innings — neither did OSU, obviously — but a fielder's-choice RBI from Ocasio made the score 2-0 in the fifth. The Gators got two more runs in the sixth when Jaimie Hoover tripled and Lorenz doubled to start the inning. Ocasio lined out to deep left field to drive in the team's fourth run on a sacrifice fly.
OSU had six outs to make up the deficit.
Though the Buckeyes managed to score two runs, including a homer against Barnhill and her wicked rise ball in Saturday's winner's bracket game, the team struggled to make contact against Ocasio, who presented an altogether different look, location and pace.
"I felt really good with all my pitches," she said. "Obviously, my off-speed was working well on multiple planes. I felt like the mix of pitches was really good and that I competed on every pitch."
With two outs in the seventh, Ocasio threw eight straight balls and walked back-to-back batters, giving the Buckeyes their first threat of the game.
No big deal.
With runners at first and second, Ocasio struck out Taylor Stevens to end the game, and put the finishing touch on something no UF pitcher had ever done before. In this program, that's saying something.
"As a former pitcher I love that she can do all those things. I appreciate players who do more than just pitch," Ohio State coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly said. "She's one of the best players in the country."
If not prone to forgetfulness, at times.
Then again, maybe Ocasio should leave the wrist band in the dugout more often.