By Jordan McPherson and Adam Silverstein
Sophomore center fielder Kirsti Merritt knew her team was tired of waiting.
With No. 5 Florida Gators softball leading the No. 12 Washington Huskies 5-0 in the fifth inning of a rubber match in the Gainesville Super Regional, Merritt ended the contest in one motion when she blasted a three-run homer to meet the run rule and send Florida to the Women’s College World Series for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Outscoring opponents 28-0 thus far in 2014 NCAA Tournament play after run-ruling Washington 9-0 on Saturday, UF dropped game two 4-3 on Sunday but fought against both UW and the elements to win third contest after five hours and 32 minutes.
Gators senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (5.0 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 6 K) impressed by tossing a complete-game shutout to bring her record to 26-8 on the season. She has now gone 21 consecutive innings — 16 in NCAA play, 10 in the Super Regionals — without surrendering a single run.
Just as it had in each of the five NCAA contests before it, Florida (50-12) struck first in game three against Washington (37-15).
After sophomore second baseman Kelsey Stewart reached on a single and advanced to second base on a ground out in the bottom of the first, junior left fielder Briana Little (1/1, RBI, R2 BB) drove Stewart home with a liner left-center.
Neither the Gators nor Huskies scored in the next two innings, and play was soon halted for three hours and 17 minutes to severe weather near Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
When the contest resumed, UF picked up its offense in a major way.
Rogers retired the side in the top of the fourth, and Florida responded by coming alive in the home half of the frame. With two on and two out in the latter half of the inning, Stewart (2/3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) ripped a three-run homer over the right field fence to give the Gators a 4-0 advantage.
Almost immediately after Stewart’s dinger left the park, a second rain delay was called, stalling the game for two hours and 15 minutes. After a quick out to end the inning, Rogers needed just 15 pitches to stamp out Washington in the top of the fifth.
Florida opened up the bottom half of the inning with back-to-back walks before freshman right fielder Justine McLean (1/1, RBI, R) hit an infield single that scored junior pinch runner Jessica Damico (0/0, R).
Merritt (1/2, HR, 3 RBI, R) then sealed the victory with her three-run bomb, enforcing the run rule and ending the game.
The Gators broke out big in the rubber match after falling to the Huskies in the game two. Florida and Washington traded the lead but UW ultimately pulled away when hurler Kaitlin Inglesby atoned for coughing up a two-run homer in the top of the fifth with a two-run shot of her own in the bottom of the frame.
UF will open up play in WCWS on Thursday against No. 13 Baylor (46-14). Florida’s half of the bracket also contains No. 1 Oregon (53-7-1) and No. 8 Florida State (54-7).