Just two years ago, Florida Gators softball entered the Women’s College World Series and fought their way to the finals before losing in back-to-back games to Washington, the top-ranked team in the country.
Two years later, No. 4 Florida powered themselves back to the WCWS Championship Series but suffered a similar fate, dropping consecutive contests to the No. 1 Arizona State Sun Devils and handing another NCAA Championship to a Pac-10 opponent.
The Gators (56-13) fell 7-2 to the Sun Devils (60-6) on Tuesday in the second and final game of the series, ending a spectacular season and great 2011 NCAA Tournament run with a thud at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK.
Playing the final game of her softball career, senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (who has decided to retire from the sport after graduation) started the contest for Florida and got out of a tough spot in the first.
Arizona State stranded on a runner on third, but UF made sure not to follow suit in the bottom of the inning. Junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie led off by smacking a stand-up double up the middle, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and crossed the plate two batters later when sophomore right fielder Brittany Schutte flied out to deep left. Moultrie’s hit tied the WCWS record for most by a single player in the event (13).
The Sun Devils made up for their missed opportunity, beginning the second with three hits and tying the game on a bases loaded walk. With one out, shortstop Katelyn Boyd singled through the right side, scoring two and giving ASU a 3-1 lead before Brombacher retired the final two batters. Arizona State increased their advantage to 5-1 in the third when designated player Alix Johnson dropped a two-RBI blooper into shallow right.
Brombacher (20-3) was pulled for freshman RHP Hannah Rogers to begin the fourth, and the young hurler got out of the top of the inning unscathed. The Gators hit three balls hard in the bottom of the inning but all resulted in long fly outs near the warning track.
ASU added another run in the fifth, scoring on a two-out RBI single, but a play at the plate ended the frame and left the Sun Devils with a 6-1 lead. Arizona State tacked on one more in the sixth courtesy of a solo homer by RF Annie Lockwood.
UF still went down fighting with senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice hitting a RBI single with two outs in the seventh to score sophomore DP Ensley Gammel, who got on base with a single of her own to lead off the inning.
Sun Devils freshman starter Dallas Escobedo (37-3) led her team throughout the event and once again in the championship series but received plenty of help on Tuesday from Boyd and Johnson, each of whom contributed three-RBI outings at the plate.
Though they posted a record-setting performance in the tournament, Florida failed in their bid to become the first Southeastern Conference team to capture a WCWS title. It was the third time in the last five years that teams from the SEC and Pac-10 went head-to-head for the championship.
2011 NCAA Tournament Honors
Co-Most Valuable Player: Michelle Moultrie
All-Tournament Team: Moultrie, Kelsey Bruder, Brittany Schutte, Cheyenne Coyle