Grand slam lifts Florida over Baylor in WCWS

For the fifth time in seven 2014 NCAA Tournament games, No. 5 seed Florida Gators softball run-ruled an opponent. On Thursday afternoon in the opening game of the Women’s College World Series, the Gators accomplished the feat in spectacular fashion with a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam sealing the victory.

Florida (51-12) jumped on the No. 13 seed Baylor Bears (47-15) early and kept the pressure on throughout the contest, earning an 11-0 win on the back of five shutout innings senior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (5.0 IP, H, 3 BB, 6 K), who has now gone 26 consecutive innings – 21 in NCAA play – without surrendering a single run.

Defensive miscues and errors doomed Baylor early and often on Thursday. BU spotted UF three unearned runs in the first inning with a sacrifice fly by senior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (1/1, RBI, R) and two-RBI double from junior right fielder Bailey Castro (1/2, 2 RBI) giving the Gators a 3-0 lead.

Sophomore center fielder Kirsti Merritt (2/3, HR, RBI, 2 R) led off the third with a solo shot to center, and sophomore second baseman Kelsey Stewart (1/3, RBI, SB) connected on an RBI single in the fourth to push Florida’s advantage up to 5-0.

The Gators decided it would be best to call it a day early in the bottom of the fifth, opening the bottom frame by loading the bases on three-straight hits.

Freshman RF Justine McLean (0/1, RBI) legged out a fielder’s choice for an RBI, and sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz (0/2, RBI) earned one of her own after being hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count, leaving Florida one run away from a victory.

Head coach Tim Walton choosing to pinch hit freshman Chelsea Herndon for sophomore catcher Aubree Munro (1/2, R) proved to be an inspired decision as Herndon ended the game by jacking a grand slam to left center.

The Gators have outscored opponents 60-4 in seven NCAA Tournament games, only allowing runs to be scored in one of those contests.

UF advanced to face either No. 1 seed Oregon or No. 8 seed Florida State in a winner’s bracket game on Friday at 7 p.m. live on ESPN. The Gators went 1-0 against the Ducks and 1-1 against the Seminoles during the regular season.

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2014 Florida softball primer: Is this the year?

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

Spring is here and No. 3/4 Florida Gators softball is set to kick off the 2014 season by playing six games in four days as part of the Wilson-Demarini Tournament in Tampa, FL.

The Gators open as the preseason favorite to with the Southeastern Conference title, according to the league’s coaches, receiving 10 of 13 first-place votes.

Florida hopes to improve successful 2013 season which saw it finish 58-9 on the year and advance as far as the semifinals of bracket play in the 2013 Women’s College World Series. While the Gators once again fell short in Oklahoma City, OK, they return the core of last year’s squad and possess the veteran leadership to make another deep postseason run, one which could result in program’s first-ever national title despite five WCWS appearances in the last six seasons.

KEY DEPARTURES

Outfielder Kelsey Horton: The 2012 Capital One All-American, Horton was a mainstay in the outfield for Florida, starting 65 games while also serving as a team captain. She was a steady offensive presence in the middle of the lineup, finishing the 2013 season batting .262 (slugging .524) with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. While Horton’s ability to impact the team on the field will be missed, her presence in the locker room and dugout might be the greatest loss for the Gators.

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