On Tuesday night Tim Walton’s name was trending on Twitter.
With his Florida Gators leading 5-2 and a mere dozen outs away from claiming the National Championship, the Twitterverse, occupied by people who clearly know far more than Walton, was baffled by the coach’s decision to go with pitchers Lauren Haeger and Delanie Gourley over Hannah Rogers.
I’m sure the Twitterers’ fire was fueled by the constant second guessing from ESPN announcers Beth Mowins, Michele Smith, and Jessica Mendoza. The trio could not fathom how Walton could sit his ace with so much on the line.
To be fair, Hannah Rogers had been more than remarkable up to that point; throughout the tournament Rogers only allowed the opposition to score in a single inning (a 6-3 win over Baylor), while shutting out Stetson, Washington twice, Baylor, Oregon, and Alabama. Her ERA was 0.00 in those games. Rogers was the MVP of the Championship series and Florida’s first four time All American.
While common sense, Twitter, and the ESPN commentators might have been screaming for Rogers, Coach Walton knew something that those just tuning in didn’t.
Lauren Haeger and Delanie Gourley are good. Really good.
The only way one can justify not going with Rogers is if Haeger can come in and get the job done. Her 1.6 ERA against the nation’s toughest conference said she could.
The only way one can justify not going with Rogers in place of Haeger is if Gourley can come in and get the job done. She came into the game and pitched out of a bases loaded jam, proving she could.
While Rogers only gave up one hit through six innings on Friday, she gave up three in the seventh. It seemed apparent that the Tide had seen her enough, made adjustments, and were learning how to hit against her. Conversely, they had seen Haeger and Gourley just once in their previous four meetings this season.
Tuesday night was not a sudden death game for Florida. Facing elimination, Alabama had to ride their ace Jackie Traina again, and the Gators chased her out of the game for the second straight night. Tim Walton knew that if Game 3 became necessary, Traina would be exhausted and Rogers would be fresh.
Walton also showed that he was thinking about the future, and I don’t just mean Game 3. The reason Rogers was ready for the moment in this tournament is she played in it before. She was there as a Freshman and Junior, and as a Senior she was poised to win.
Had Rogers thrown every pitch, Gourley would have entered her Sophomore campaign with no experience in OKC beyond her clipboard duties, and Haeger would be a Senior who only swung a bat the previous trip. Now both returning pitchers have major experience under their belts.
And its not like Walton had to turn to Rogers to bail Haeger and Gourley out. He sent her in leading 5-2 to get the save and have one last time on the mound. It was a perfect ending for her, especially assisting on the game’s final out.
When you compare the numbers of the three pitchers it is hard to argue with Walton’s decision. Haeger, herself an All American, allowed five hits and two runs in three innings. Rogers allowed two hits and a run in two innings, and Gourley allowed no hits or runs in two innings.
Not mentioned on Tuesday night was Alyssa Bache, the other Junior in the bullpen, who is a decent 14-0 in her UF career.
The point is clear: the Gators don’t just have a great pitcher, they have a great pitching staff. Why stick with one when you have three? In my first article for Hail Florida Hail I said Florida had the best bullpen in the country, with possibly the three best pitchers in the country.
And now, just like Tim Walton, I’ve been proved right.