No. 1 Florida Gators softball became just the third program in the history of the sport to win back-to-back national championships, defeating the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 4-1 on Wednesday in Game 3 of the 2015 Women’s College World Series Championship Series in Oklahoma City.
Senior right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger (7.0 IP, 5 H, ER, BB, 5 K), the 2015 USA Softball Player of the Year, went the distance for Florida and also continued her dominance at the plate by going 1/1 with an RBI single and two intentional walks. With Wednesday’s performance a compliment to her tremendous effort throughout the event, she was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
UF outscored its opponents 41-8 in the NCAA Tournament with six shutouts in 11 games, two of which went to extra innings. The path was therefore even more arduous than a year ago, when the Gators ran through the field on the way to their first national title, outscoring opponents 81-10 with eight shutouts and six run-rule victories.
Haeger went 8-1 in nine tournament starts, losing by a 1-0 decision in a game void of run support. She tossed 65.0 total innings in the event, registering 44 strikeouts and giving up 36 hits (11 of which came a nine-inning game) while only walking nine batters and allowing six earned runs. Haeger was simultaneously Florida’s best bet at the plate, hitting .433 with four homers, 11 RBI, seven runs, eight walks and a stolen base.
She flashed that dominance Wednesday by kicking things off with a clean top of the first before coming up big for the Gators in the bottom half of the inning, plating the game’s first run. Junior second baseman Kelsey Stewart led off the inning by getting hit in the kneecap and was moved over to second as freshman left fielder Nicole DeWitt reached on a fielder’s choice bunt. Haeger then connected with a no-out bloop single to score Stewart, placing runners on the corners.
After a pop-out, junior center fielder Kirsti Merritt (0/2) avoided a tag and a potential double play, forcing the Wolverines to complete a 3-4 out at first while moving Haeger over to second. Florida took advantage with junior first baseman Taylor Schwarz (1/4, 2 RBI) – in a 1-for-11 NCAA Tournament slump – smacking a two-RBI single to left, scoring DeWitt and Haeger, who beat out a dropped play at the plate to give UF an early 3-0 advantage.
Sophomore right fielder Justine McLean kept the momentum going by singling to lead off the bottom of the second and advance to second on an error by UM’s third baseman. A sacrifice bunt moved McLean (2/3, R, SB) over to third, and Stewart (1/2, RBI, R, 2 SB) soon drove her home with a double to deep left. DeWitt (0/2, R) and Haeger loaded the bases after each being hit by a pitch, but the Gators ended the frame with consecutive swinging strikeouts and failed to take advantage of the great opportunity, moving ahead 4-0 on the Wolverines.
Threatening for the first time in the top of the third, Michigan started the frame with consecutive hit batters before loading the bases with a two-out walk. Remaining calm, Haeger induced a strikeout – her second of the frame – on four pitches to get out of the jam. The Wolverines eventually got on the scoreboard in the fifth with 2B Sierra Romero smacking a two-out RBI through the third-base side to cut UF’s lead to 4-1, but Haeger escaped more trouble to moved her team within six outs of the title.
Florida left seven runners on board over its final three frames, stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. The Gators went 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position on Wednesday, 9-for-57 in six WCWS games. But Haeger remained calm on the mound despite the lack of offense, battling off pressure from the Wolverines to toss the complete game.
As such, UF joined Arizona and UCLA as the only teams to win back-to-back titles in the sport.
Haeger shared All-Tournament team honors with Stewart, DeWitt and junior catcher Aubree Munro.
Gators softball became the eighth Florida program to win back-to-back national titles, joining men’s swimming (1983-84), women’s golf (1985-86), men’s basketball (2006-07), men’s indoor track & field (three straight: 2010-12), women’s tennis (2011-12), men’s outdoor track & field (2012-13) and gymnastics (three straight: 2013-15).
Florida will celebrate its back-to-back national champions at Pressly Softball Stadium with a special ceremony on Thursday, June 4 at 5 p.m.