Gators sweep Crimson Tide for 1st softball title
Published: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 10:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 12:06 a.m.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Coach Tim Walton gambled, and the Florida Gators cashed in with a national championship.
Celebration set for Wednesday night
Gator fans are invited to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on the UF campus this evening to welcome home the national champion Florida softball team. The Gators are expected to arrive between 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the stadium. Gates open at 5 p.m. and admission is free.
Parking is available at the University of Florida Performing Arts or the Florida Lacrosse Facility, both located on Hull Road.
Everyone, including the Alabama Crimson Tide, expected Walton to throw his senior ace, Hannah Rogers, in Tuesday night's national championship series game at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
Walton, instead, went with junior Lauren Haeger and then replaced her with freshman left-hander Delanie Gourley, neither of whom had thrown a pitch in the Women's College World Series. The duo combined to keep Alabama in check until Rogers entered to get the last six outs, and the Gator bats did the rest in a 6-3 victory to bring Florida its first softball national title.
Florida (55-12) closed out the best-of-three championship series with its second victory over the Crimson Tide (53-13) to win the all-Southeastern Conference final.
Florida players jumped up and down on the dirt surface after the final out, then dog-piled onto the ground in celebration.
“We just stayed together and played together all the way through the season,” Rogers said in an ESPN interview. “I'm just so proud of all the girls. I'm just so excited I don't know what to think.”
Alabama, which struggled at the plate in losing to Rogers by shutout the night before, pounced on Haeger in the first inning. Haylie McCleney led off with a single and Kallie Case slapped a single to left. The runners moved to second and third on a fly out and Jadyn Spencer singled up the middle to drive McCleney home for a 1-0 lead.
Florida didn't trail for long. The Gators answered in the bottom of the inning with Stephanie Tofft's two-out solo home run to left field to tie the game, and there was more to come.
In the second inning, Florida knocked Alabama's ace, SEC Pitcher of the Year Jaclyn Traina, out of the game, as it did late in the opening contest the night before.
This time, however, it was in much more dramatic fashion.
Florida turned its third double play of the series to get out of the top of the inning, then Florida passed the hot bat from player to player. Aubree Munro and Taylor Schwarz, UF's eight and nine hitters in the lineup, both singled with one out to bring up second baseman Kelsey Stewart, who singled to right field to drive in a run for a 2-1 Florida lead.
But the Gators weren't done. Center fielder Kirsti Merritt hammered a three-run home run to left field to put Florida up by a commanding 5-1 margin and send Traina to the dugout.
Freshman Sydney Littlejohn entered in relief to get Alabama out of the inning, but the damage was done.
Alabama, however, wasn't done fighting. Kaila Hunt hit a solo home run to left in the top of the third to cut the Gators' lead to 5-2.
Walton decided to make a change after Traina hit a leadoff single to start the fourth, bringing in Gourley. UF's fourth error of the game loaded the bases for Alabama with two outs, but Gourley got a groundout to put out the fire.
The two rookie pitchers, Gourley (15-1) and Littlejohn, settled in to keep the score in check for the next couple of innings before Florida finally turned to Rogers with a three-run lead in the sixth.
She showed the same dominant form that she had displayed in powering Florida through the postseason, getting three outs on eight pitches in the sixth. She gave up a run in the seventh on a McCleney triple and a Hunt RBI single before getting a grounder to end the game and set off the celebration.
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