It was a near-perfect night for Florida Gators senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers, who faced the minimum of 18 batters through six innings and delivered a shutout performance to earn a victory for her team in the first game of the best-of-three Women’s College World Series Championship Series.
Rogers saw 23 batters, two over the minimum, by the time the night was over, starting the contest perfect through the first four innings as No. 5 seed Florida (54-12) pulled off a 5-0 victory over the No. 2 seed Alabama Crimson Tide (53-12).
Monday’s win was the first for UF in a WCWS Championship Series game despite the program advancing to the finals in both 2009 and 2011.
The Gators shut out their opponent for the eighth time in 10 tries in the 2014 NCAA Tournament and are now outscoring their adversaries 75-7 in the postseason event.
Rogers (7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 K) is 7-0 in the tournament with three earned runs in 42 innings pitched. She has shut out opponents in 41 of those frames, giving up only three runs in the fifth inning of UF’s semifinal contest.
Alabama starting hurler Jaclyn Traina powered through Florida in the first two innings, striking out the side in the second while retiring six of the seven batters she faced in those early frames.
However, the Gators were quick to jump on Traina in the third with sophomore catcher Aubree Munro tearing the cover off the second pitch she saw as the leadoff hitter, homering for the third time this season and first since Feb. 14.
Florida padded its lead to 3-0 in the fifth. It all started with sophomore second baseman Kelsey Stewart forcing her way on base with a two-out bunt and coming all the way home one batter later as sophomore center fielder Kirsti Merritt doubled to left-center on 1-1 count. Senior third baseman Stephanie Tofft then followed with a single to shallow left, allowing Merritt to score from second.
Rogers’s perfect game and no-hit bid ended in the bottom of the fifth when she gave up a single to start the frame after retiring the first 12 batters she faced. Her teammates had her back, however, as Tofft started a 5-4-3 double play that cleared the bags and ended the inning without further incident.
Insurance runs came aplenty for the Gators in the top of the seventh. Stewart (2/3, 2 R, BB) singled to open the inning and advanced to third as Merritt (1/3, RBI, 2 R, SB) bunted and reached first base on a throwing error. After Merritt stole second to get into scoring position, Tofft (1/3, 2 RBI) hit a sacrifice fly to left to send Stewart home. Junior designated player Lauren Haeger (2/4, RBI), in a slump entering Monday night’s game, followed with her second hit of the night – a double to deep right field – scoring Merritt and increasing Florida’s lead to 5-0.
Traina, who entered the game having given up just nine hits in her three prior WCWS games this postseason, was tagged for eight on Monday. She coughed up five runs (four earned) and three walks but showcased her power by striking out six on the evening before getting pulled for Leslie Jury after 6.1 innings.
The bottom of the seventh proved to be a bit taxing for Rogers, who gave up another leadoff single up the middle to start the frame. She quickly made up for the hit by turning a 1-6-3 double play to erase the base runner. Rogers wound up surrendering two more hits in the inning but got out of it unscathed, maintaining the shutout for the Gators.
Florida and Alabama will meet on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the second game of the best-of-three series, which will air live nationally on ESPN. The Gators are looking to win the first national championship in program history.