The fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College World Series ended in celebration for No. 2 Florida Gators softball, which needed 15 innings and more than five hours to prevail 9-8 and eliminate the No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers from the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Florida (58-8) lost two separate leads on Saturday before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th, exactly the number it needed to take down Nebraska (45-16) and continue its storybook season.
The Gators flashed offense by loading the bases in the third but did not score until the fifth, when UF posted all six of the runs it plated during regulation. An incredible bottom of the seventh kept the Cornhuskers in the game, and a run by each team in the 10th inning extended Saturday’s contest even further.
Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (8.0 IP, 11 H, 7 R [6 ER], 3 BB, K) – two days after lasting less than an inning in Florida’s WCWS opener – showed a renewed focus for the first six innings but unraveled in the final frame of regulation. She returned in the 15th and gave up another run but held on for the save. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (7.0 IP, 3 H, ER, 4 BB, 4 K) was terrific in innings 8-14, keeping the Gators in the contest and picking up the victory.
Rogers allowed three singles in the bottom of the fourth and was let down by her defense as two runs crossed the plate. With runners on the corners and one out, senior right fielder Kelsey Horton caught a fly out and relayed the throw through first base instead of directing it home. Freshman Taylor Schwarz (2/7, BB), who caught the relay, hit her hand on a helmet and saw her throw to home sail away from the catcher.
One batter later, Alicia Armstrong singled to center field, scoring Nebraska’s second run of the inning and fronting the Cornhuskers a 2-0 lead.
The Gators responded immediately, using a single and walk to put runners on first and second with one out in the top of the fifth. Junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft singled to left to score freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart (2/7, R, BB) from second, suddenly cutting UF’s deficit to 2-1.
Haeger, who started the game as the designated player, loaded the bases on a fielder’s choice as UN’s third baseman tried to tag out a runner rather than throw for an out. Horton followed by reaching base on another fielder’s choice, knocking in Florida’s second run of the inning and tying the game at 2-2.
UF’s third and fourth runs of the frame came on an error by Nebraska’s shortstop, who tried to force a double play on a third fielder’s choice but instead threw the ball into right field. Sophomore outfielder Brianna Little hit into a fourth fielder’s choice, which finally registered a second out for the Cornhuskers, to score Horton (0/4, RBI, R) from third and increase the Gators’ lead to 5-2.
Florida would enhance its advantage to 6-2 just one batter later as sophomore Bailey Castro (1/1, RBI) smacked a pinch-hit RBI single through the left side, scoring freshman catcher Taylore Fuller.
In all, the Gators brought 11 batters to the plate in the top of the fifth; nine reached base and six came around to score.
Nebraska got a run back in the bottom of the sixth with Hailey Decker hitting a solo bomb to left field, but UF maintained a three-run lead heading into the final inning.
After a pair of one-out singles, the Cornhuskers had runners on first and second when freshman center fielder Kirsti Merritt tracked down a fly ball in center, falling on top of it and then throwing to first for a would-be game-ending double play. Instead, Merritt was ruled not to have caught the ball and the inning continued.
Nebraska then loaded the bases and cut their deficit to 6-4 on a single up the middle. With the bases still juiced, UN registered its second out on a fly to center but wound up tying the game as a bevy of mistakes by UF allowed two runs to score.
After Merritt (1/7, R, BB) caught the ball, she threw it home where a tag was not made. Fuller then tossed the ball to second only to have it go to third for a rundown. Tofft chased down the runner home and appeared to tag her, but the ball popped out of her glove and the game-tying run crossed the plate, sending the contest into extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, Little (2/8, HR, 2 RBI, R) got Florida’s lead back with a one-out solo homer to deep left. The Gators then loaded the bases with two down, but Haeger flied out near the warning track in right to end the frame.
Nebraska responded in kind with Taylor Edwards rocketing a ball to left to knot the game again at 7-7. The Cornhuskers would follow suit by loading the bases, but Haeger got out of the jam with a strikeout and line out to shortstop.
Tofft (2/5, RBI, R, 3 BB, SB) struck out looking to open the 15th for the Gators, but Haeger followed by finally breaking out of her slump and doubling down the left field line. Sophomore OF Jessica Damico then singled to shortstop, advancing Haeger to third. Fuller (1/6, 2 RBI, R, BB) completed the rally by reaching on an error by the shortstop. The ball bounced into right field with Haeger (1/7, R) and Damico (1/3, R) crossing the plate to put Florida ahead 9-7.
Rogers replaced Haeger to start the bottom frame and immediately coughed up a lead-off double down the right field line to Armstrong. She moved to third on a ground out and scored on another as UF decided to concede a run in order to register the second out.
After dueling it out at a full count, Rogers walked Edwards and put the potential game-tying run on first. Gabby Banda stepped up to the plate and singled hard off of Rogers’s body. The ball rolled into short left, but Edwards was thrown out at third base by Damico as she tried to swipe an extra bag on the play, finally ending the longest game played in UF softball history.
The Gators prevailed in the longest WCWS game since 1992 but must return to the hotel and get as much rest as possible. Florida is scheduled to take on No. 4 Texas in another elimination game on Sunday at 1 p.m.