Gators beat Huskies to advance to WCWS
Published: Sunday, May 25, 2014 at 8:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 26, 2014 at 12:31 a.m.
They played Charades and slept under blankets and watched TV and nibbled on sandwiches on a bizarre day/night of softball.
And in the end, neither rain nor lightning nor protests could keep Florida from another trip to Oklahoma City.
On a night with two long rain delays and a lengthy protest by Washington, Florida ended one of the longest two-hour games in its softball history with another trip to the Women's College World Series.
“I've never been a part of anything like this,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “It's pretty cool … now.”
Kirsti Merritt hit a three-run homer to end the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, as the Gators run-ruled the Huskies for the second time in the Super Regional. The final was 8-0 on a day that started at noon and ended just after 11 p.m.
“The way I swing, I guess I was trying to end it,” Merritt said. “But in my mind I wasn't.”
It will be the sixth appearance in Oklahoma City for the No. 6 Gators, who won their 50th game of the season but were pushed to a third game by Washington.
Hannah Rogers pitched a one-hitter for Florida in the win.
“I just had to stay focused,” said Rogers. “It's exciting that I get to end my career at the College World Series.”
Two delays because of severe weather totalled almost six hours and once the game was restarted at 10:30 p.m., Washington coach Heather Tarr questioned Florida's use of a video camera in center field. The live video feed to the Florida coaches is allowed in the regular season but not in the postseason.
However, the offense is not a violation that can result in the protest of a game and Florida had the camera turned off after the conference.
“I'm not going to comment on that because it's not protestable,” Walton said.
After more than 10 minutes, the game resumed for a third time and minutes later it was over thanks to Merritt's blast.
Florida (50-12) had taken a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning after a dramatic three-run homer from Kelsey Stewart, that was reminiscent of the movie “The Natural.” Seconds after a lightning flash lit up the sky, Stewart yanked a pitch over the right-field fence.
“I didn't see (the lightning) but I heard the oohs and aahs,” Stewart said.
Tarr questioned an NCAA official on site whether or not the game should have been stopped just before the Stewart homer because of a nearby lightning strike.
Lightning strikes are monitored by computer, not by sight and seconds after the Stewart homer (and Tarr's appeal that Stewart missed first base), the game was delayed for a second time by severe weather.
“It was bizarre,” Stewart said. “You go play, take a three-hour break, go back out for a half inning, go play some games in the clubhouse,” she said. “I knew (after her homer) there was no losing after that.”
The No. 8 Huskies (37-15) forced the third game with a 4-3 win over the Gators, snapping Florida's 11-game Super Regional winning streak.
“I had a gut feeling this was going to go to three games,” said Walton.
Florida took a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth of the first game on a two-run homer by starting pitcher Lauren Haeger, who fouled off five straight pitches with a 3-2 count before launching her 20th homer of the season.
But in the bottom of the inning, she returned the favor, giving up a two-run homer to Washington starting pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby with two outs.
Florida had a chance to tie the game in the top of the sixth, but Merritt was thrown out at the plate on a soft grounder to second.
Washington scored a single run in the second to break Florida's streak of 24⅔ scoreless innings pitched and another run in the fourth to put Florida behind for the first time in the NCAA tournament.
But one win was not enough for the Huskies.
“Our (Super Regional) win streak was broken,” Walton said, “but it didn't affect the outcome.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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