Gators Slam Bama to Reach CWS Final

Ali Gardiner slammed a walk-off grand slam with two out in the bottom of the seventh to give the Florida Gators an exhilarating 6-5 win over Alabama to earn the Gators a spot in the finals of the College World Series in Oklahoma City. Gardiner's ninth homer of the season shocked the Crimson Tide and moves Florida within two wins of the national championship.

Alabama had lost three of four meetings to the Gators, but after two Florida blowouts (9-1, 10-1) the last two games had been very competitive. Alabama beat the Gators 6-4 to salvage the final game of the regular season series and the Gators had to hold on to beat the Tide 8-5 in the SEC Tournament Championship Game. Thus, there was no reason to expect this to be easy, and it wasn't.

Alabama got on the board first with an unearned run in the third inning. Jennifer Fenton led off with a single and continued to second on the first error of the season by Gator left fielder Francesca Enea. Two groundouts later there was a runner at third with two down when Alabama's Kelley Montalvo registered an infield hit to score Fenton with the game's first run. It was a big moment for Montalvo, a senior from Miami.

The Gators were hitless through three at bats against Alabama's Kelsi Dunne but that changed in the fourth. Enea opened the inning by drawing her second walk of the game and Kelsey Bruder followed with a line drive homer that just cleared the fence in right centerfield for a 2-1 Gator lead. Florida had a chance to add to the lead later in the inning with runners on second and third, but Dunne got Kim Waleszonia to ground out to end the inning.

Alabama regained the lead with four runs in the next half inning, again aided by the Gator defense or lack thereof. With two out Alabama speedster Brittany Rogers hit a chop right at Florida second baseman Aja Paculba who inexplicably soft tossed the throw to first base and Rogers beat it for a single. Rogers then stole second and scored on a single by Lauren Parker that tied the game at two. Montalvo followed with her second hit of the game and Charlotte Morgan walked to load the bases. Nelson then hit Alabama freshman Cassie Reilly-Boccia to bring in the go-ahead run. With two strikes on Ashley Holcombe Nelson got the Alabama catcher to pop up but shortstop Megan Bush gave up on it early and left fielder Brooke Johnson never got there and two more runs scored.

The Gators had a chance in the sixth inning when Megan Bush opened with a single. Two outs later Kristina Hilberth singled to put runners on the corners and bring the tying run to the plate but for the second time in a key situation Dunne retired Waleszonia this time on a lazy fly to right field.

But Florida is a team that never gives up and that was not about to change on college softball's biggest stage. Aja Paculba led off the seventh inning with a walk and one out later Enea singled to bring the tying run to the plate. After Kelsey Bruder popped out Megan Bush worked a walk setting the stage for Gardiner and the senior did not disappoint. Gardiner who just missed an opposite field homer earlier in the game hit a high fly to left field that was just out of the reach of ‘Bama left fielder Whitney Larson for the win. It was the third game winning slam the Gators have hit off Dunne in the last two seasons.

The Gators will face Washington with a best two of three series beginning Monday night.

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