UF softball comes up short

Florida's Ali Gardiner cries as she steps forward to receive an individual award after a WCWS game in Oklahoma City, on Tuesday.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 10:58 p.m.

OKLAHOMA CITY - Ali Gardiner was in tears again Tuesday night but for the wrong reason.

Gardiner, the Sunday hero whose grand slam launched Florida into the Women's College World Series final, struck out with the tying run on second as the Gators' season ended with a 3-2 loss to Washington.

Gardiner threw her bat to the ground, bent at the knees and covered her face as the tears flowed.

"I told her we wouldn't be here without her," UF coach Tim Walton said. "Don't let this bad moment ruin your career."

Gardiner came to the plate with two out and two on after Francesca Enea doubled and Kelsey Bruder walked. But tournament most outstanding player Danielle Lawrie struck out Megan Bush and then Gardiner, throwing it past the UF senior on the 1,501st pitch of her post-season.

"Every time we got runners on base, she revved it up another gear," Walton said. "The last two innings, it was more like two gears."

The loss was a painful one for the Gator players who had such a wonderful season only to fall short with their first two-game losing streak since April of 2007.

"Losing sucks, especially on this stage," said pitcher Stacey Nelson. "But the thing I'm going to take from this is the 20 girls I played with for four years. There's a lot of pain, but what I am going to remember is that the four years I spent at the University of Florida were the best years of my life."

Nelson pitched well after struggling in the early innings, keeping the game within a run. But Florida missed opportunities to score in the late innings.

Trailing 3-2 after three innings, Florida had its chances to tie the game getting runners to second and third in the fourth and the bases loaded in the fifth. A nifty play up the middle by Washington shortstop Jenn Salling on Aja Paculba's grounder ended the threat in the fourth and Corrie Brooks struck out looking to end the fifth.

"I thought I got enough of it to get it through," Paculba said. "She just made a great play."

The win capped a remarkable post-season for the Huskies, who could not host Regional games because their home field has no lights. They traveled to Amherst, Mass., for the Regionals and survived a 15-inning title game there, then won the Atlanta Super Regional before traveling to Oklahoma City for six games in six days.

It also allowed the Pac-10, long the power in women's softball, to continue its mastery over the sport despite the SEC having three of the four teams in the Final Four. This was Washington's first national title in softball.

Florida looked like a different team at the start of the game than the uninspired Gators who managed only two hits in the first game of the best-of-three finals. Paculba led off with a triple against Lawrie and scored Florida's first run of the finals on a passed ball.

"I was just trying to get something started, get some momentum," Paculba said.

The next two runners reached and executed a double steal before Megan Bush made it 2-0 with a deep sacrifice fly to center.

But Washington, which had the best batting average in the WCWS, came right back in the bottom of the inning off Nelson. Nelson, who gave up eight earned runs in her previous two games, gave up singles to three of the first four batters to allow one run and the Huskies tied it on a wild pitch.

Washington took the lead with an unearned run in the third. Michelle Moultrie, making her first start of the WCWS, dropped a line drive with one out in the inning. After two singles loaded the bases, Nelson misplayed a dribbler back to the mound allowing a run to score.

"That ball was rocketed," Nelson said of Moultrie's drop. "It had some crazy spin on it."

Nelson and Bush were named to the all-tournament team.

"There will never be another No. 42 at Florida in softball as long as I'm the coach," Walton said of Nelson's number. "This team will go down as one of the best teams ever in the sport of softball."

Fans wishing to greet the team can show up today at 3 p.m. at the softball stadium.

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