THE FLORIDA GATOR SOFTBALL TEAM HAS WON BACK-TO-BACK NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! After losing 1-0 in Game 2, the #1 Gators came back in the final Game 3 and defeated #3 Michigan 4-1 to claim their second straight National Championship. It was definitely an odd game as nine batters total (6 Gators, 3 Wolverines) were hit by a pitch. This set an NCAA record and was how most of the Gators got on base!
In her final collegiate game, Lauren Haeger cemented her legacy by going the distance and giving up just one run on five hits to earn her 32nd win of the season. She struck out five batters and walked just one. At the plate, Haeger went 1-1 with an RBI and scored a run. She reached base in all four of her plate appearances as she was hit by a pitch once and intentionally walked twice.
Haeger's teammates picked her up offensively this game as junior Taylor Schwarz singled in two runs after Haeger's RBI to give the Gators an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. In the very next inning, junior Kelsey Stewart doubled in sophomore Justine McLean to push the lead to 4-1.
From there on the Gator scoring stopped. They would leave the bases loaded in the second and sixth innings while leaving a total of 12 runners on base. Despite the Gators' poor offensive showing after the first two innings, Haeger's pitching and clean team defense were enough to hold Michigan to just one run. The final out of the game came on a ground ball that Michigan's Kelly Christner hit to first baseman Taylor Schwarz. She easily fielded it and stepped on first base to secure Florida's second straight National Championship.
This time around, I was a lot more cool and collected after the last out was recorded. During the game however, I was very anxious because I knew how quickly Michigan's offense could get going. When it was all said and done, however, the defending National Champions did exactly what I predicted in May. The opponent may not have been Auburn, but the series did go three games and more importantly the Gators won it all!
The Florida Gators join some elite company in UCLA and Arizona as the third team ever to repeat as National Champions! The Gators grinded it out in a very competitive SEC conference and had to face Kentucky in the Super Regionals and then #8 Tennessee, #5 LSU, and #4 Auburn in the WCWS on route to the Finals vs #3 Michigan. Their Game 2 loss to Michigan was their first non-conference loss all year.
Winning a National Championship is special, but to do it again the very next year is something just spectacular! It was on this very date (June 3rd) last year that the Gators defeated Alabama to claim the school's first softball National Championship. It is only fitting that they repeat on June 3rd.
The Gator softball team joins the men's basketball, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, swimming and diving, and women's golf, gymnastics, and tennis teams as the eighth Florida athletic team to win back-to-back National Championships.
After losing just two seniors in Hannah Rogers and Stephanie Toft, the Florida Gators had 14 players returning from the 2014 National Championship squad. With all this talent coming back, I had a good feeling the Gators could repeat as National Champions.
It also helped to have the legendary Tim Walton at the helm as head coach. Concluding his tenth season at Florida, Walton finally has his girls playing at the level he demands as the Gators reached the promise land yet again. Players may come and go, but Walton is here to stay.
The Florida Gators finish the season at 60-7. They successfully defended their National Championship and I am glad to be witnessing it as a student at UF. They will graduate five seniors with Lauren Haeger headlining the class. She seized her moment and will go out with her senior teammates as two-time National Champions. As expected, Haeger was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2015 Women's College World Series.
As for Michigan, their magical season comes to an end at 60-8. They finish as both Big 10 Regular Season and Tournament Champions. It is hard for Michigan to not think of what could have been had Sierra Romero decided to go home in the final inning of Game 1 when the Wolverines trailed 3-2.
Had Michigan taken Game 1, it very well could have been them celebrating their second ever National Championship after last night's 1-0 win instead of the Gators tonight. My hat goes off to Michigan, they played great all season and gave Florida real run for its money all the way until the final out of the 2015 season.
After recapping another National Championship victory, all I have left to say is this: Congratulations to the 2015 Florida Gator softball team! Back-to-back National Champions! It is great to be a Florida Gator!
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com, Wikipedia, & NCAA.com