Another solid performance from senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers led No. 5 seed Florida Gators softball (53-12) to a 6-3 victory over the No. 13 seed Baylor Bears (49-16) on Sunday, sending Florida to the Women’s College World Series Championship Series for the first time since 2011.
The Gators won three-straight WCWS games to earn the opportunity to play for the national title, outscoring their opponents 21-3 on the back of a trio of stellar performances from their ace in Rogers.
After stranding runners on base in each of the first two innings, Florida opened up its scoring in the third when sophomore center fielder Kirsti Merritt got on board with a walk, advanced to second on a groundout and scored as senior third baseman Stephanie Tofft smacked a stand-up double down to the wall in left-center.
Junior Brianna Little (2/3, 2 R) began the fourth with a stand-up triple on a grounder through the middle of the infield and scored on a squeeze bunt by sophomore catcher Aubree Munro (1/4, RBI), pushing the Gators ahead 2-0 midway through the contest.
Florida piled on the runs in the fifth, loading the bases after two batters got hit by Baylor starter Whitney Canion. Sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz (1/4, 3 RBI) cleared the bags with a three-RBI double that spotted the Gators a 5-0 lead, but she ended the frame after getting tagged out while trying to leg the hit into a triple.
Rogers (7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, BB, 2 K) saw her streak of 38 consecutive scoreless innings – including 32-straight in 2014 NCAA Tournament play – come to an end in the bottom of the fifth due to some clutch hitting by Baylor.
She allowed a one-out single and double down the left field line as the Bears plated their first run of the game. After a walk and ground out, right fielder Kaitlyn Thurmann singled down the first base line to score two more and cut UF’s advantage to two.
Florida did not waste much time adding to its lead. Sophomore pinch hitter Taylore Fuller singled with one down in the top of the sixth, advanced to second on a single from sophomore second baseman Kelsey Stewart (1/4) and moved over to third as Merritt (0/1, R, 2 BB) was hit by a pitch. Tofft (2/3, 2 RBI, R) entered the box looking for another big hit but instead saw a pitch hit her, forcing Fuller (1/1, R) home for the Gators.
Rogers rebounded to retire the final six batters she faced in order, moving to 6-0 in six NCAA Tournament starts this year with just three earned runs in 35 innings pitched.
UF failed to shut out its opponent for just the second time in nine NCAA Tournament games but is still outscoring its adversaries 70-7 in the national postseason event.
Championship Series action begins on Monday at 8 p.m. Florida will face the No. 2 seed Alabama Crimson Tide, which UF was 1-2 against in a home series back in March. The Gators are 26-32 all-time against the 2012 national champion Crimson Tide with the teams an even 4-4 over the last three seasons. It will be the first ever Championship Series contested by two Southeastern Conference teams.