Florida softball advances to College World Series
Published: Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 at 12:10 a.m.
All week, it was forbidden.
What: Women's College World Series
Who: Florida (57-7) vs. Tennessee (49-10)
When: Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
Radio: 104.9 FM
Where: ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City
But when the dust settled at home plate Sunday, the members of the Florida softball team could scream it at the top of their lungs.
Oklahoma City, here they come.
For the fifth time in six years, UF coach Tim Walton is taking a team to the Women's College World Series. This one came in dramatic fashion when freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart threw out the tying run at home plate to end the game and give Florida the 1-0 win over Alabama-Birmingham (40-19).
Although pinch-runner Hailey Glynn was out easily, it could have been a close play had Stewart not realized that Glynn was trying to score from second base.
“I was just hoping she didn't throw the ball to first base,” Walton said.
Stewart laid out for the grounder up the middle off the bat of Lauren Webster but didn't look at first. Instead, she got to her knees and fired a perfect strike to catcher Aubree Munro, a defensive substitute in the seventh inning.
“Every day in practice, we go through game-winners,” Stewart said. “Right before the play (shortstop) Katie (Medina) and I said, ‘Game-winner.'
“I was just laying my body out there. She thought I would go to first. I would have (thought that) too.”
The final out preserved a shutout for Florida starter Hannah Rogers, who was masterful in the circle in a game with little margin for error. In running her record to 33-5, Rogers allowed only four hits and struck out seven.
“She was really good,” Walton said of his pitcher. “She had real command of her pitches. Don't forget about defense. She made a couple of really nice plays.”
One of them came to start the seventh when Rogers was able to snag a bouncer that went over her head to get Kristen McGrath out at first.
But Anna Kimbrell followed with a double that smacked high off the wall in left-center. Chandler Orr's popped out to second to set up the dramatic finish and the celebration was on.
Gainesville was Dogpile City again.
“It's a completely different feeling,” Walton said. “Even though we're the Florida Gators, we've played as an underdog all season. It's a very special feeling.
“They don't understand what they've accomplished in a short period of time.”
Florida had little trouble getting runners into scoring position during the game, but struggled at the plate once they were there. After a 1-2-3 first inning, UF put runners on second or third in the next five innings but went 1-for-11, wasting several opportunities.
It was Taylor Schwarz who came up with the one RBI of the game for the Gators when she roped a double to left field off the wall to score pinch-runner Ensley Gammel from second in the fourth inning.
“We didn't talk about (Oklahoma City) once this week,” Schwarz said. “It's been forbidden. But now that we're going, it's really surreal to me.”
The Gators are now 57-7 and face Tennessee on Thursday in Oklahoma City. The two teams played three games earlier in the season in Gainesville with UF winning two. All three went extra innings.
“They were my preseason pick to win the SEC,” Walton said. “They are one of the best teams in the country. It's no surprise that they are there.”
But it is something of a surprise that Florida, with a team full of freshman starters, is going back to Bricktown after a year's absence.
“We're going to the Women's College World Series,” Stewart said. “It does seem surreal.”
Except that it's real.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.