Saturday, May 28, 2016

UF Softball: #1 Florida's Three-Peat Dreams End in Super Regionals

With one swing of the bat, it was all over. A trip to the Women's College World Series, a fourth consecutive super regional victory, and a chance for a three-peat were all gone after the No. 16 Georgia Bulldogs (45-18) swept the No. 1 overall seeded Florida Gators (56-7) in the Gainesville Super Regional.

Shock and awe. Those are the two words that come to mind after these last couple of days. Florida is just the second number one overall seed EVER to not make it to the WCWS. Potentially just as historic, every single one of their seven losses this season was to an SEC opponent (two to Auburn, two to Alabama, one to Texas A&M, and two to Georgia).

Florida's offense vanished in super regionals. After hitting nearly .400 as a team in regional play, the Gators took a huge step backwards as they hit .167 and mustered just eight total hits against Georgia senior Chelsea Wilkins.

Wilkins only struck out three between the two games, but she didn't need to rack up double digit K's to be effective. She allowed two runs the whole series, both of which came in Game 2 after a complete game shutout in the opener.

When Florida did score a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning, neither of them came from an RBI hit. Taylore Fuller was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Amanda Lorenz plated a runner when she grounded out to first base.

Besides the incredible pitching performance from Wilkins, Georgia had some heroes on offense as well.

In Game 1, junior utility player Maeve McGuire went 3-3 and drove in two runs off of Florida starter Delanie Gourley as the Bulldogs handed the Gators just their third loss of the season at Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium.

In Game 2, Florida seemed to be in prime position to win some momentum back and force a Game 3 with a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning.

Trying to finish out the game, Gator ace Aleshia Ocasio induced a flyout before allowing an infield single to Maeve McGuire. It's worth noting that McGuire's single was a bang-bang play that could have gone either way.

After a line out to Alex Voss at shortstop, Georgia's remaining hope rested in senior pinch hitter Kaylee Puailoa. The lefty quickly fell in an 0-2 hole, and Ocasio was zoning in on the kill. The sophomore reared back and threw a rising pitch over the heart of the plate.

Puailoa crushed it to dead center field, and a crowd of over 2,000 waited in suspense to see what would unfold. Would it be Game 3 or a program-defining win for the Bulldogs?

Gator center fielder Kirsti Merritt gave chase to the fly ball, but ran out of the real estate as she banged into the wall. After hitting the wall, Merritt looked up and saw the ball soar over the fence. Puailoa and Georgia had just done the impossible. They just upset the best team in the country.

Puailoa raised her fist in the air as she rounded first base and was mobbed by her teammates when she crossed the plate. Head coach Tim Walton and his Gators had to watch in in shear disappointment as one of their biggest rivals celebrated on their field.

A senior class that had been an integral part of two straight National Championships saw their collegiate careers end in the most heartbreaking fashion. Of Florida's five seniors, only Kirsti Merritt and Aubree Munro recorded a hit in the super regional. 

In fact, Merritt and Munro were responsible for half of the Gator hits against Wilkins as they both notched one hit in each game. As a unit, the seniors hit .200 (4-20) against Georgia.

Final Takeaway:
Florida's shot at immortality and history are just a bunch of "what-ifs" now. This is the fourth time in school history (2008, 2009, & 2013) that Florida has lost less than 10 games and concluded their season without a National Championship.

In my season recap article I will go through and list the season highlights, individual award winners and the final career statistics of the seniors. Until then, stay tuned for my upcoming articles on the Gator baseball team as they try to win the first National Championship in program history.

One final note, I tip my hat off to the Georgia Bulldogs. They played their hearts out and proved many doubters (including myself) wrong. Though they are one of Florida's fiercest rivals, I do wish them the best of luck in what will be their third WCWS appearance in school history. The better team won this series, it's just that plain and simple.

*All stats accredited to

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