Gators are National Champions

The Florida Gators won their first national championship in softball and did it with a 6-3 win over SEC rival Alabama. A jubilant Gator team stormed the field after MVP Hannah Rogers made the throw to first base that would end the contest. It is the first national title for Florida after two previous trips to the Championship series of the Women's College World Series.

Florida head coach Tim Walton made a gutsy move to start the game going away from her Ace and All-American senior pitcher Hannah Rogers to junior Lauren Haeger. Haeger gave up a quick run in the first inning when Alabama posed ta two out rally… and what looked like would be more in the same inning, but settled down and relied on her defense to only allow one run.

The Gators would strike back in the bottom of the first on a two out home run by senior third baseman Stephanie Tofft.

It was three up and three down for Haeger in the top of the second and then the Gators would give her a little breathing room at the bottom of the stanza.

With one out, sophomore catcher Aubree Munro would single tp right field, sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwartz would single again to right field moving Munro to third base. Kelsey Stewart would single through the right side as well, scoring Munro and moving Schwartz to second. Sophomore outfielder Kirsti Merritt would jump all over a fast ball for a three run home run and a 5-1 lead for the Gators, sending Alabama starting pitcher and All-American Jaclyn Traina off the mound and freshman Sydney Littlejohn.

Littlejohn would be effective pretty much the rest of the way for the Crimson Tide who got one run back in the top of the third where Katie Medina committed two of three errors on the night by the all-star shortstop. Medina had only committed three errors all season long on the NCAA's best defensive team and had a rough outing in the field on Tuesday. The second error basically helped lead to the Crimson Tide's second run of the game.

The Gators allowed no runs for innings four, five, and six and along the way set the new record for most double plays by a team in the WCWS with seven. And after the third inning Walton made a pitching change moving to freshman Delanie Courley who pitched two innings, gave up no hits or runs, walked one and struck out two in her two inning stretch.

Then it was time for Rogers. The MVP of the WCWS, the mere presence of Rogers on the mound seems to set the tone for the team behind her and their defense. Plays like the diving catch in center field by Kirsti Merritt in the top of the seventh that would have scored a run led to the eventual win for the Gators.

Rogers did give up a run in the seventh inning after a triple from Alabama's sophomore center fielder Haylie McClenney and then a two out single from senior short stop Kaila Hunt. But it was Rogers with the closing defensive play, one that was definitive of the play all tournament long from her and this team, that was the final out to land the Gators their first national title. A quick comebacker for Rogers and throw to first sent the Gators into a mob in the middle of the infield and the celebration started.

Rogers who went 4-0 in the NCAA Tournament, with a 1.0 ERA, struck out 13, and had three shutouts, spoke to ESPN shortly after the game and talked about everything that transpired on Tuesday, including not getting the start.

"I (trusted) whatever (Coach Walton) wanted to do and just believing in him and I knew that they would get the job done because they have worked hard all season long," she said of the other two pitchers on the night.

This Florida team has been to the WCWS six times and twice previously in the championship matchup, but finally came away with the hardware. Rogers says it was all about being close that finally helped pull it off.

"We just stayed together," she said. "We have played together through the season and the NCAA tournament and I am just glad for all the girls."

And about the final play she made to clinch the game… "It didn't even hit me until I made the play, but I am just so excited."


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