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.