Early defensive lapses and an inability to make any serious contact at the plate doomed No. 1 Florida Gators softball (59-7) on Tuesday as the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (60-7) scooted by with a 1-0 win to extend the 2015 Women’s College World Series Championship Series in Oklahoma City.
The best-of-three series will move to a game three on Wednesday as Florida, which was shutout for the first time this season, looks to win back-to-back national titles and become the first team in WCWS history to win the crown after losing game two of the championship series.
Wolverines right-handed pitcher Haylie Wagner stymied the Gators all night, striking out five and not allowing a single walk despite giving up six scattered hits. She has now thrown 20 shutout innings at the WCWS, a necessity in order to edge Florida senior RHP Lauren Haeger (6.0 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, K), who had a solid outing in her own right.
UM’s run production came as UF struggled defensively – a surprise considering Florida’s prowess all season – in the bottom of the first inning.
Michigan kicked things off Tuesday with its first two batters of the game reaching base via infield singles, the first as senior shortstop Katie Medina made an uncharacteristic mental error and tried to get the lead runner instead of throwing to first base.
After a pop up for the first out of the inning, right fielder Kelsey Susalla singled to shallow center, registering an RBI and giving the Wolverines an early 1-0 lead as Gators junior center fielder Kirsti Merritt (1/3, SB) misplayed the ball and was unable to beat the runner home.
Haeger would eventually get out of the jam, forcing a fly and line out, but not without UF trailing through the end of an inning for the first time in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
Florida attempted to respond immediately, placing runners on the corners after Haeger (2/3) led off the top of the second with a single, but two strikeouts sent UF into the dugout with a zero on the scoreboard. Haeger also smacked a one-out single in the fourth, but the Gators were unable to send either of their base runners home, ending the frame with consecutive outs.
The Wolverines appeared prepared to increase their lead in the bottom of the fifth, but with a runner on second and one out, UF completed a 6-3-5 double play to clear the bags and end the inning.
Wagner sat Florida down in order in the top of the seventh as UF finished the day 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position, bringing their WCWS total down even further to 5-for-42 over the last five games.
In 10 years of WCWS action, all 10 game two winners have gone on to win the national title. Seven teams won the title in a sweep, which the Gators are now unable to do; the other three champions won game two and three in succession.
Florida also saw its record-tying 15-game NCAA Tournament win streak come to a crashing halt on Tuesday. The Gators will look to set another record and become just the third team in history to win back-to-back softball national titles on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The rubber match, which is expected to be another Haeger-Wagner showdown, will air live nationally on ESPN.