Wednesday, June 4, 2014


THE GATOR SOFTBALL TEAM HAS WON ITS FIRST EVER NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! Sorry, I needed to get that out of my system. With their 6-3 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in Game 2 of the WCWS Finals tonight, the Florida Gators have brought the University of Florida and the Gainesville community the softball National Championship they have been waiting for. If I'm all over the place in this article, please forgive me as I am still trying to settle down after such an amazing and historic win.

I was nervous the entire game, I just wanted it to be the seventh inning already and for the game to end. I was even more unsettled when Coach Tim Walton decided to start junior Lauren Haeger for this game over senior Hannah Rogers. Rogers had been dominating the entire tournament and had shut down the Tide offense in Game 1 the night before. I did not at all understand Coach Walton's logic and I'll man up and say I had my doubts.

That's why I'm not the coach. Walton knew the entire time what he was doing. Haeger ran into some trouble in the first inning and gave up one run, but managed to get out of the inning without allowing any major damage. Haeger would go on to pitch three innings while allowing just two runs.

I thought Rogers would come in to close it out after Haeger's departure in the fifth inning, but I was wrong again as Tim Walton sent freshman lefty Delanie Gourley out to pitch. I was at the game in Gainesville when Gourley gave up three runs to Alabama in the first inning, so I was a bit on edge about this pitching decision. She wound up in a bases loaded jam but found away to pitch out of it unscathed. She would pitch two no hit innings of shutout relief. Walton's risk paid off again. Gourley would ultimately get the win in Game 2, her 15th of the year. Coincidentally, her earlier game against Alabama would be her only loss as she finshes the year 15-1.

The stage was now set in the sixth inning for Hannah Rogers. She pitched a pretty clean sixth inning and I knew the seventh inning would be the toughest three outs of her career. It all started when Alabama pinch hitter Andrea Hawkins lined a ball to shallow left center. It looked like it would drop in for a base hit but Kirsti Merritt came diving in to record the first out of the inning. Merritt's diving catch would earn her the No. 4 spot on ESPN's Top 10 plays.

After giving up a triple, Rogers got the second out of the inning on a pop fly to left field. The Gators were now just one out away. Bama's Kaila Hunt singled to narrow the score 6-3 and keep their seventh inning rally going. Rogers, however, would have no more of it as she got cleanup hitter Jadyn Spencer to hit the ball right back at her. Very fittingly, Rogers threw to first base to secure the first National Championship in Gator softball history. This was just her second save of the season, and it couldn't come at any bigger moment.

Defensively, the pressure of winning it all must have gotten to the Gators as they committed four errors on the night. Keep in mind they had made no errors in the WCWS up to this point. Katie Medina committed three at shortstop and left fielder Briana Little misjudged a fly ball in left field. However, the Gators made some great plays to make up for these errors.

  • The Gators turned their WCWS record sixth double play to end the second inning after Medina's throwing error. The Gators would turn there seventh WCWS double play the very next inning.
  • Second baseman Kelsey Stewart fielded a ground ball with the bases loaded, bobbled it, and threw it to first base to get the Gators out of the jam in the fourth inning. This came after Briana Little's dropped fly ball put Bama runners on second and third with no outs.
  • Finally, and perhaps the defensive play of the WCWS for the Florida Gators, center fielder Kirsti Merritt recorded the first out of the pivotal seventh inning with her diving catch that took away an extra base hit.

Offensively, my MVP and player of this game in general is sophomore Kirsti Merritt. The amazing seventh inning catch aside, Merritt hit what will be remembered as one of the biggest home runs in Gator softball history with a three run shot in the bottom of the second inning. This gave the Gators a 5-1 lead at the time and proved to be the difference as they won by three runs.

Merritt, of course, was not alone in the Gator offensive production in this game. Lauren Haeger, who had been in a horrendous slump in the WCWS prior to Game 1 of the Finals, broke out for three hits tonight. Stepanie Tofft, in her final game as a Gator, left her mark as she blasted a solo home run with two outs in the first inning to tie the game at 1.

Taylor Schwarz and Kelsey Stewart were the dynamic duo in the #9 and #1 spots of the lineup as they both had two hits and combined to score three runs. Stewart was the only Gator in tonight's game to cross the plate twice. Eight Gator players had at least one hit and the team had 12 hits in total. They outhit the Tide 12-7. What also helped the Gators was their ability to knock Alabama ace, Jaclyn Traina, out of the game after just 1.1 innings. This was the second straight game that they tagged Traina for five runs. I will give her replacement, freshman Bama pitcher Sydney Littlejohn (her last name killed me haha), credit thought as she pitched a solid 4.2 innings of relief and allowed just one unearned run. She will be a force for the Gators to reckon with in the future.

Finishing the deal and ending this season with a National Championship is very fulfilling to me as both a reporter and a UF student. I had been extensively covering the Gator softball games going all the way back to regionals with a few regular season games sprinkled in here and there. Seeing legendary Coach Tim Walton and the girls finally win it all after heartbreaking losses in 2009 and 2011 makes me happy that I was there for every moment of a magical postseason.

For the girls to win the first softball National Championship in their history during my freshman year at Florida, that's a moment and memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. It's honestly a surreal feeling as I used to be a Miami Hurricanes fan and none of their main sports teams ever won any championships in the five years that I rooted for them. I've always loved the game of softball (my prom date senior year was a softball player) and I am so happy that I was able to witness history tonight.

Here are my closing thoughts: 


*All stats accredited to and

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