Florida softball in hole after losing WCWS opener
Published: Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 6:16 p.m.
OKLAHOMA CITY — There was no point in sugarcoating Florida's performance in the Women's College World Series on Thursday.
“We just didn't play very well,” said Florida coach Tim Walton.
Not much went right for the Gators in a 9-2 loss to SEC rival Tennessee. The Gators made two huge errors to ignite a four-run sixth inning for the Vols. Starting pitcher Hannah Rogers was yanked after 26 pitches. The Gator power drought continued.
And they find themselves one loss from the end of a special season.
“We battled,” Walton said. “We just didn't have enough.”
The Gators went down 3-0 in the first as Rogers couldn't find the strike zone, walking three batters. She walked in a run before going 2-0 on Melissa Brown. Of her 26 pitches, 15 were balls.
“I was feeling good,” said Rogers, who is now 33-6 on the year. “Things just didn't go my way.”
The Vols were as surprised as anyone that Rogers was lifted with only one out in the first. She had allowed four earned runs in 13 ⅔ innings in two previous starts against the Vols.
“We were ready to split the game (pitching-wise),” Walton said. “I didn't think we could go with one pitcher. I just didn't think we could afford to give up a huge number.”
So Walton went to Lauren Haeger, who have up a two-run double to Brown. But for the next four innings, Haeger kept Florida in the game and the Gators fought back to close to within 3-2.
“When you're in relief, you have to be ready to go from the first inning on,” Haeger said.
A triple by Kelsey Stewart, her nation-leading 10th of the year, and a single by Stephanie Tofft got the Gators back into the game.
Then came the fateful sixth.
Tennessee co-coach Ralph Weekly gathered his team together after Florida pulled within a run.
“I told them, ‘You're not going to back into a championship,' ” Weekly said. “You gotta explode and explode right now, or they'll take it from you.”
Tennessee exploded for four runs, but Florida lit the fuse.
The Gators had made several highlight-reel plays until the inning, but Tofft threw away a sacrifice bunt attempt and Stewart missed a backhand of a routine grounder, helping Tennessee score four runs off Haeger. Kat Dotson's double accounted for one run, and Lauren Gibson followed with another to make it 7-2.
Tennessee scored twice more in the top of the seventh on a wild pitch and a triple by Dotson.
“Uncharacteristic mistakes,” Walton said.
The Vols, who lost two of three games in Gainesville earlier in the year, will play Washington today.
“They punched us in the mouth in the fifth inning,” Dotson said. “We wanted to keep momentum on our side.”
It was the third time in five trips to Oklahoma City that the Gators lost their opening game.
The Gators (57-8) now get the day off before facing Nebraska (45-15) on Saturday at noon in an elimination game. Walton said after the game he will pitch Rogers again Saturday.
In its four previous trips to the WCWS, Florida has never been eliminated in two games.
Nebraska, the 14th national seed in the tournament, couldn't hold a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh against Washington. The Huskies tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a squeeze play and won it on a first-pitch homer by Kimberlee Souza to lead off the bottom of the eighth.
Florida last played Nebraska in March of 2010, losing 1-0.
One thing Florida will be looking for to get back into this tournament is a return of the home run ball. The Gators hit 83 in the first 61 games but have not hit one in their last 151 plate appearances.
“We still left nine runners on base,” Walton said. “They looked like the better club from start to finish. We haven't faced a lot of adversity this season. You just have to play the next game like it's your last.”