Senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers did not start Tuesday night’s game for the Florida Gators, but her steady hand and tremendous command closed out the final two innings of the Women’s College World Series Championship Series, helping Florida softball (55-12) earn the first National Championship in program history on the back of a 6-3 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide (53-13).
The Gators swept the Crimson Tide in the best-of-three series with Rogers earning a 5-0 shutout win on Monday and finding her well-deserved place on the mound in the final exciting moments on Tuesday.
It was the first time in three WCWS Championship Series appearances that Florida won a single game (0-4 combined in 2009, 2011) yet the Gators were dominant at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Florida outscored its opponents 81-10 in the 2014 NCAA Tournament with eight shutouts and six run-rule victories.
Rogers went 7-0 with a save in eight total appearances, giving up just four earned runs in 44 innings pitched while shutting out her adversaries in 42 of those frames. She was named 2014 WCWS Most Outstanding Player after the game.
Nevertheless, it was junior RHP Lauren Haeger received the call and subsequently got off to a rough start in the circle for UF, giving up back-to-back singles to open the game before a sacrifice fly advanced both base runners.
A third single in four total at-bats by Spencer sent home the first run of the game. Haeger eventually got out of the am but not without Florida trailing for the first time in 31 innings dating back to game two of its Super Regional.
Gators senior third baseman Stephanie Tofft would not allow her team to be down for long, slugging a solo homer to left to tie the contest at 1-1 with two outs in the bottom of the first. The RBI was her 11th in as many NCAA Tournament games.
Tested again in the top of the second, Florida saw Alabama first baseman Leona Lafaele reach after junior shortstop Katie Medina committed a throwing error by pulling sophomore 1B Taylor Schwarz off the bag and into Lafaele on the base path. The runner was quickly negated by a 4-3 double play as sophomore second baseman Kelsey Stewart tagged Lafaele and tossed the ball over to Schwarz to end the inning.
UF made a statement in the bottom of the second, inching ahead 2-1 on three-straight one-out singles by sophomore catcher Aubree Munro (1/3, R), Schwarz (2/3, R) and Stewart. Sophomore center fielder Kirsti Merritt (1/4, HR, 3 RBI, R) then stepped up and crushed a three-run bomb to left, pushing the Gators ahead 5-1 and sending Traina to the bench after 46 pitches (34 from the first inning).
Medina’s second error, a mishandled ground ball, put another leadoff runner on for UA in the third; however, Haeger nabbed a line drive and converted a 1-3 double play to erase the base runner. It proved to be a fortunate defensive play for Haeger, who saw her lead cut to 5-2 after she was taken out to deep left by 2B Kaila Hunt.
The double play was UF’s seventh of the WCWS. It set a new record for most by a single team in the event, leaping over the previous total of five.
A third error by Medina – she mishandled a ground ball and overthrew the first baseman – put a runner on second, but Haeger forced a fly out to right center to end the frame. Medina (0/0) had only previously recorded three errors in 158 total chances this season.
Traina singled to start off the fourth for Alabama, sending Haeger (3.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, K) to the bench and freshman left-handed pitcher Delanie Gourley into the game. An error in left field by Florida junior Brianna Little (0/3) allowed runners to move to second and third, but Gourley forced a pop up and strikeout before walking the bases loaded.
That is when Stewart came up with her second impressive defensive play, corralling a hard-hit grounder and tossing it to Schwarz to end the frame without a run being scored.
Gourley (2.0 IP, BB, 2 K) returned in the fifth to retire the Crimson Tide in order, striking out Hunt on 11 pitches before forcing consecutive fly outs. Her night would come to an end there as Rogers stepped into the circle in the top of the sixth and retired the side.
The Gators added an insurance run in the bottom frame as Stewart (2/4, RBI, 2 R) singled with one down, advanced to second on a grounder and scored as Tofft (1/3, HR, RBI, R, BB) reached on an error. Haeger (3/4) singled to left center to put two on for Florida, which ultimately left the inning up 6-2 following a play at the plate.
Merrit helped Rogers and the Gators by diving full extension for the first out in the top of the seventh. A legged-out triple put a runner just feet from home plate, and she came home two batters later on a two-out RBI single. Rogers (2.0 IP, 2 H, ER) then ended the contest with a 1-3 ground out, sending Florida to its first national title.