Alabama won the battle, but Florida won the war. And the National Championship.
When the two SEC teams met earlier this year in Gainesville, Alabama took two out of three to win the series. But when it mattered most–as in a best of three Women’s College World Series–it was Florida taking two straight from Bama.
Game 1 was a convincing 5-0 victory for the Gators.
Tim Walton sent out a shock when he turned in his roster card for Game 2: Lauren Haeger, not Hannah Rogers, was going to start on the mound. Rogers is a senior, and her numbers have been ridiculous; 41 of her 42 postseason innings have been shutouts. Haeger was 1-1 in the postseason, but Walton wanted to give Bama something they hadn’t seen yet.
Many may have been scratching their chins in the first inning, wondering what Walton was thinking. Haeger gave up three hits and a run–the first run surrendered in the Finals. The Tide left two on board when the first ended.
But the Gators quickly erased that run with a two out home run from Senior Stephanie Tofft.
Coming into Tuesday’s game Florida boasted the nation’s best defense, and had not committed an error in the WCWS. They also had a record-tying five double plays in the tournament, and both were snapped in the second. An error by Katie Medina allowed a base runner, but a double play erased her. Medina committed two more errors, and Brianna Little added another.
Aubree Monro, who homered in Game 1, collected a single in the second inning. Monro’s was followed by a single from Taylor Schwarz, putting runners at the corners for the Gators. Kelsey Stewart hit an RBI single, then Kirsti Merritt cleared the bases with a three-run shot, putting Florida ahead 5-1.
In the top of the third UF turned another double play, but gave up a two out solo homer.
In the fourth Tim Walton went to his bullpen, but in favor of Freshman LHP Delanie Gourley, not Hannah Rogers. Gourley worked her way out of a bases loaded jam, then induced a 1-2-3 fifth.
Hannah Rogers finally made her appearance in the sixth, an inning in which she threw just seven pitches to retire the side.
The Gators added a run in the sixth from Tofft, batting for her final time. Her single scored Kelsey Stewart, who reach on a bunt and advanced to second on a sacrifice.
Trailing 6-2 in the seventh, Bama needed a miracle that never came. A one out triple led to a run, but that was all the Tide could muster. The final out was a ground ball that Rogers gathered and tossed to first, and the dog pile ensued.
Tim Walton’s club won 55 games against 12 losses, and finally crossed the threshold by winning the National Championship, which had evaded Florida in recent years.
The Tide has turned, and the Gators now stand alone as the elite team in college softball.