Gators head to WCWS

A heady play from a freshman sent the Florida team into a celebratory dog pile at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Sunday. With the tying run on second and two outs, freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart dove for a ball up the middle, popped to her knees and threw the runner out at home to secure a 1-0 win and Florida's fifth Women's College World Series berth in the last six years.

The aggressive decision by the UAB third base coach to send the runner home didn't surprise Stewart. She claimed she would've done the same thing. Off the bat, the ball looked like it was headed for center field, which would've tied the game. But Stewart, one of the most highly recruited players in the country last year, made the instinctual play that has made her one of the top freshmen in the country.

She even dove too far for the ball, knocking it down with the heel of her glove. But instead of throwing the ball to first base and trying to get the out, which head coach Tim Walton said he was hoping she wouldn't do, Stewart hopped to her knees and made a perfect throw to nail the runner at home.

"She looked right to the plate," Walton said. "She threw her out by a lot, but it's a closer play than it looks. If she hesitates or does the wrong thing, they've got a run. I'm really proud of her for being heads up."

The play was second nature to Stewart. Every day at practice, the Florida coaching staff puts the defense through drills called ‘game winners.' They'll line a runner up in scoring position and hit a ball anywhere into the Florida defense, forcing them to make a difficult play to keep the run from scoring.

With two outs and the runner on second, Stewart and shortstop Katie Medina looked at each other, smiled and shared the phrase with each other -- ‘game winners.' And on the next pitch, Stewart did what the coaching staff put her through every day in practice.

"Coach always hits us balls like that," Stewart said. "I never had a doubt that the ball (wasn't) going through the infield. I was just laying my body out and trying to get that ball stopped."

The runner got to second base with one swing that almost changed the game. Anna Kimbrell lined a ball off the top of the left-center field wall with one out in the seventh inning, coming just feet from tying the game at one.

It was one of the few blemishes of the day for Hannah Rogers, who tossed a shutout, allowing four hits, two walks and recording seven strikeouts. She threw all of her pitches in any count, especially using her off-speed pitches while behind in the count to keep UAB hitters from sitting on one pitch.

Florida scored its only run of the day in the fourth inning. With two outs, pinch runner Ensley Gammel stole second and scored when Taylor Schwarz lined a double off the left-center field wall on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. After a tough day at the plate and an error in the field on Saturday, Schwarz helped her team with the biggest hit of the game.

It's the story of this year's Florida team, according to Walton. Every game has produced a different hero.

"That just tells you the story of our team," Walton said. "It's everybody. Through the wins and losses, it's everybody. They believe in each other."

The Gators will face Tennessee on Thursday during the first day at the Women's College World Series at a time to be announced. Florida won the regular season series 2-1 over the Volunteers.

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