By Jordan McPherson – OnlyGators.com Contributor
No. 5 Florida Gators softball (48-11) is one step closer to making its sixth Women’s College World Series appearance in seven years after closing out a sweep of the Gainesville Regional with a victory on Sunday.
Breezing through its first two opponents at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, UF shut out the Central Florida Knights (43-18) in the regional final on Sunday, winning 7-0 and advancing to the Super Regional portion of the 2014 NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in an eight-year span.
Gators junior right-hander Lauren Haeger (7.0 IP, 5 H, 5 K) tossed a five-hit shutout in Sunday’s finale to pick up her 10th win of the season and drop her ERA to a team-best 1.57. After giving up back-to-back singles to open the bottom of the first, Haeger calmed down and retired the next 11 batters, only scatting five singles in the contest.
But her contribution to Florida’s win extended much further than the pitcher’s circle. Haeger (1/5, HR, 3 RBI, R) blasted her team-leading 19th home run of the season — a one out, two-run shot in the first inning — which was also her third homer in as many games during the Gainesville Regional.
UF added a run in the first when sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz (0/3, BB) reached on a fielding error and scored junior left fielder Briana Little (0/3, 2 R, 2 BB).
The Gators tacked on four more runs via a single from sophomore designated player Taylore Fuller (1/3, RBI) in the third, fielder’s choice from Haeger in the fourth and a two-RBI single from sophomore centerfielder Kirsti Merritt (2/3, 2 RBI) in the sixth.
Florida’s dominance in the regional final was the last of three shutout performances the team displayed to open up NCAA play.
On Friday, freshman left-handed pitcher Delanie Gourley (5.0 IP, BB, 7 K) tossed a no-hitter against the Florida A&M Rattlers as UF took the 8-0 win in a five-inning game. Gourley, who leads the Gators with 1.18 strikeouts per inning pitched, earned the win in her first career NCAA Tournament start. Haeger (2/2, HR, 2 RBI, R, BB) and Schwarz (1/2, HR, 3 RBI, R) brought the power for Florida on offense, each smacking first-inning homers to give spot UF a 6-0 lead before three outs were even recorded.
The Gators then ousted the Stetson Hatters 14-0 in six innings in the winner’s bracket game on Saturday. Behind a four-hit shutout by senior righty and team ace Hannah Rogers (6.0 IP, 4 H, BB, 4 K) and a .515 team batting average, Florida saw 12 different batters plate a hit and had every player who stepped into the batter’s box reach base.
Sophomore second baseman and leadoff hitter Kelsey Stewart (2/4, 4 RBI, R, SB) set a career-high with four runs batted in against Stetson. She was tremendous over the weekend, finishing 7/12 with two triples and boosting her season batting averaged to .430, the second-best single-season mark in school history (Michelle Moultrie, .443).
Florida learned after its victory that it is set to host the No. 12 Washington Huskies in the NCAA Super Regionals. Washington (36-13) similarly shut out the competition in its regional, sweeping the event 26-0 while only giving up eight hits in three games.
The Gators are 10-0 in five total Super Regionals hosted in Gainesville, sweeping every best-of-three matchup.