For the fourth time in the last seven seasons, No. 1 Florida Gators softball advanced to the Women’s College World Series Championship Series, earning a 3-2 extra-innings victory over the No. 4 Auburn Tigers on Sunday afternoon in Oklahoma City.
Despite starting the day 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, the Gators got a hit when it mattered the most with freshman left fielder Nicole DeWitt (1/4, RBI) smacking an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to score the game-winning run from second.
Senior right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger struggled early but nevertheless went the distance for UF, giving up two earned runs on 11 hits with four walks and six strikeouts in 9.0 innings. She was also 0/2 at the plate but walked twice.
Junior second baseman hit a leadoff double for Florida in the first but failed to come around to score with the Gators going 0-for-3 behind her. Auburn faced an equally-good chance to score in the top of the second with the bases loaded on one out after UF committed its first two errors of the WCWS, but junior center fielder Kirsti Merritt caught a fly and hooked up with junior catcher Aubree Munro for an 8-2 put-out to end the inning.
The Tigers responded right away, loading the bases and making the most of the situation with a two-out, two-run double by RF Branndi Melero to push ahead 2-1. Another Merritt-Munro connection on a blooper to center ended the frame and kept the score close but not without the Gators trailing for the first time in 2015 NCAA Tournament play.
It did not take long for Florida to erase its deficit and knot the score at 2-2 as junior third baseman Taylore Fuller (1/3, HR, RBI, R, BB) battled for a good pitch and powered it out of the park for a solo home run to leadoff the bottom of the fourth. UF got two more runners on during the frame but was unable to capitalize.
Light hitting and tremendous defense brought the teams into extra innings without either scoring again. The Gators threatened in the seventh, stranding the game-winning run on second base, and again in the eighth when UF had the bases loaded with one out but saw the lead runner tagged out at home after a fly out to center.
Munro (1/2, 2 BB) walked to leadoff the ninth but was thrown out at second on a sacrifice bunt by McLean, who eventually advanced to second on a wild pitch. After a pop up for the second out, McLean (1/3, 2 R) found her way home on DeWitt’s single.
Still, Florida finished the day 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, making them 3-for-30 for the WCWS to this point. Auburn saw the leadoff runner board five times in the first six innings but stranded 13 on base over the course of the afternoon.
The victory was the Gators’ seventh walk-off and 13th come-from-behind win this season. Florida has now won 14 straight NCAA Tournament games, one shy of the record shared by Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA.
WCWS Championship Series play will begin on Monday at 8 p.m. UF will face either No. 3 Michigan in the best-of-three series. The Gators are looking to become the eight program in the history of the sport to win back-to-back titles as the reigning 2014 NCAA Champions.
UF is 2-0 against UM this season, winning 2-1 on Feb. 7 in Tampa (second game of the season) and 7-4 in Fullerton, California, on March 5. Haeger did not pitch in either game. Freshman RHP Aleshia Ocasio entered in relief in the first contest and pitched the entire second game, tossing 11.0 innings without an earned run with four hits, two walks and 12 strikeouts.