Florida defeats Alabama 6-3 for first NCAA softball championship Written By Bill Plummer
OKLAHOMA CITY – Florida's third appearance in the NCAA Championship turned out to be the charm.
Before a Military and Public Service Appreciation Night crowd of 7, 810 Tuesday evening at Hall of Fame Stadium, Florida won the second game of the best-of-three Championship Series, beating Alabama, the 2012 national champion, 6-3, to win its first NCAA national championship and the second in three years for the Southeastern Conference. Alabama won the SEC's first NCAA national championship in 2012.
It's the first national softball championship in the 18-year history of the Florida program and the Gators finished unbeaten in the tourney, 5-0, and 55-12 for the season. Alabama closed the year at 53-13 appearing in its second Championship Series in three years. It was the fifth meeting between the two SEC rivals this year with Florida holding a 3-2 edge after the biggest game in Gator softball history.
Surprisingly, Hannah Rogers,one of only two seniors on the game, didn't start after pitching the Gators to the Championship Series. But she was around at the end as Florida used three pitchers to defeat the Crimson Tide. Lauren Haeger started and hurled the first three innings, allowing five hits and two runs. Freshman Delanie Gourley followed her and hurled two innings and didn't allow any hits or runs and was the winning pitcher (15-1). Rogers hurled the last two innings and allowed a pair of hits and one run in her curtain call. She finished 4-0 with an ERA of 1.00, allowing four earned runs, 17 hits while striking out 13.
Within moments of fielding a ground ball back to the mound and throwing out Alabama's Jadyn Spencer for the final out, Rogers jumped and rolled around on the ground celebrating Florida's first-ever national championship. She faced eight batters and hurled 23 pitches.
In an on-field interview shortly after the game, Rogers said she didn't fret when Florida coach Tim Walton decided to start Lauren Haeger and later inserted freshman Gourley.
Rogers threw a four-hit shutout in Game 1 Monday night to improve to 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament, needing only 80 pitches to give Florida its first win in the WCWS Championship Series. Rogers was named the event's Most Outstanding Player.
“I was just trusting whatever he wanted to do,” Rogers said. “I knew they would get the job done because they have worked hard all season long. We just stayed together. I'm just so proud of all the girls. I was just so excited [on the final out].
“It didn't really hit me [we won] until we finally made the play.”
The Gators (55-12) chased Alabama ace Jaclyn Traina for the second consecutive night. This time, a four-run second inning capped by Gators outfielder Kirsti Merritt's three-run homer off Traina did the trick.
The Gators hit three home runs and scored 10 runs (nine earned) against Traina in 7 2/3 innings during her two starts in the championship series, pounding 14 hits against the All-American who surrendered only nine hits in her first three WCWS appearances. Florida finished the WCWS with a .331 team batting average and hit six of the 23 homers in the event.
With the Gators nursing a three-run lead Gourley replaced Haeger with one on and no out in the top of the fourth.
Haeger wasn't nearly as sharp as Rogers was in Monday night's 5-0 Game 1 win, but she managed to last three innings, giving up five hits and two runs while throwing 58 pitches.
When left fielder Briana Little committed UF's fourth error of game on a fly ball immediately after Gourley entered, Alabama had runners on second and third and the tying run at the plate.
Alabama eventually loaded the bases before Gourley got out of the jam on Kallie Case's ground ball to second baseman Kelsey Stewart, who bobbled the grounder briefly before throwing to first to escape the jam.
Florida fell behind 1-0 in the first Tuesday when Jadyn Spencer singled home Haylie McCleney with the first Alabama run, but thr Gators came right back and answered in the bottom of the inning when Stephanie Tofft smashed a 2-2 pitch from Traina into the left-field bleachers for the Gators' first run. It was Tofft's 11th homer of the season.
Tied 1-1, the Gators took the lead for good in the second inning, scoring four times. Helsey Stewart drove in the first run with a single to right field. It was her 101st hit of the season, tying the individual season record held by former Gator standout Michelle Mountrie. Stewart was aboard as Kristi Merritt followed with a three-run homer over the fence in left center for her 13th roundtripper of the year.
Trailing 5-1, Alabama added a run in the third on Kaila Hunt's 12th homer of the year over the left field fence. It could just as easily been two runs because McCheney was doubled off first on a ball hit back to Haeger by Kallie Case before Hunt batted. The Gators also had a double play in the second inning and finished the Series with a record seven double plays.
The Gators had not made an error in its previous four games, but made four Tuesday evening against the Crimson Tide. If Florida had not made any errors on Tuesday, it would have been the fourth team to go undefeated in winning the Series without making an error. The Gators finished with a .972 fielding percentage as did Alabama.
Leading 5-2, Florida added a run in the sixth inning on a run-scoring single by Stephanie Tofft, who later was thrown out at home. Tofft's single scored Stewart with the only run in the inning. Stewart singled with one out to break the single season total hits record she shared with Moultrie.
Alabama, which had beaten the Gators two times in a three-game series earlier in the year, scored its third and final run in the seventh when McCleney tripled to right field and scored on Hunt's RBI single to right field.
The Gators had made it to the WCWS Championship Series twice before but were swept both times, by Washington in 2009 and Arizona State in 2011. The Gators were the lowest seed to win the NCAA title since No. 5 seed UCLA won in 2010. Florida is the 16th team to go through the WCWS undefeated. This was Florida's sixth WCWS appearance.
Four Florida players were named to the All-Tournament team including Aubree Munro, Bailey Castro, Stewart and Merritt. Joining them were Alabama's Traina and Hunt; Oklahoma's Shelby Pendley, Kentucky's Kelsey Nunley, Oregon's Courtney Ceo, and Baylor's Jordan Strickland and Linsey Hays.
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