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Florida’s Offensive Explosion Blasts the Gators Past Baylor in WCWS Opener, 11-0 (5 inn.)
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – A three-run first inning set the tone for Florida (51-12) as the Gator offense exploded for 11 runs on nine hits, powering UF to a commanding 11-0 (5 inn.) rout of 13th-seeded Baylor (47-15) in Thursday’s Women’s College World Series opener at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Center fielder Kirsti Merritt helped lead the Gator assault by going 2-for-3 at the dish with a HR and an RBI. Right fielder Bailey Castro contributed a 1-for-2 effort with a two-run, first-inning double and pinch hitter Chelsea Herndon crushed a walk-off grand slam in her only at-bat during the bottom of the fifth.
UF’s Hannah Rogers (27-8) won the high-profile battle of NFCA All-American pitchers, allowing just three hits while striking out three over five frames of work.
Baylor’s Whitney Canion permitted two earned tallies on four hits, walked two and struck out a pair over 3.1 innings while falling to 31-11 overall.
"First of all congratulations to Baylor, I thought they played a very good super regional," Florida head coach Tim Walton said. "We were watching as we were waiting through rain. Really good team, and for our team come out and to get as many runs as we were able to get early off of Whitney Canion, that was the goal -- to get as many runs as we could, because we know what their offense can do and has done.
"I give Kirsti (Merritt) a huge amount of credit for getting that first hit. Obviously they made a mistake and we were able to capitalize on it, getting that two‑out hit by Bailey (Castro) in the gap. Hannah (Rogers) went out and challenged the strike zone and pitched well with all pitches. Defensively we made some really nice plays. That's what you expect. We practice hard. We changed up our routine from being here as many times as we had. I felt like our players came in confident, calm, under control and we warmed up well. And how about a freshman in her first at‑bat at the College World Series hitting a grand slam off one of her former teammates. I thought that was good stuff."
Following a one-two-three top of the first, Florida wasted no time getting on the board in the bottom half against Canion with the benefit of a little help from the Bears. With one down in the frame, Merritt got a threat underway by lacing a single to left center. On a grounder off the bat of designated player Lauren Haeger, the ball was thrown away at second on a force attempt, stationing Gators at the corners. A sacrifice fly from third baseman Stephanie Tofft, a walk issued to right fielder Briana Little and a two-RBI double to the wall in right by Castro put a crooked number on the board as UF nabbed a quick 3-0 advantage.
With the tough start in the rearview mirror, Baylor finally appeared to be settling into the contest. After retiring Florida in order during the bottom of the second, BU shortstop Jordan Strickland managed her team’s initial hit by opening the top of the third with a sharp single up the middle. Rogers refused to let the Bears string anything together, however, retiring the next three batters in a row with two K’s to leave the runner stranded at first.
The Gator advantage grew to four runs in the bottom of the third as Merritt led off the frame with a solo shot that just cleared the wall in center.
A bunt single from BU second baseman Ari Hawkins and a two-out base knock on the infield by left fielder Linsey Hays put a pair on the base paths for Smith in the top of the fourth. The Baylor third baseman stepped to the dish and ripped a promising shot to her counterpart on the Gators. Tofft vacuumed up the sharp bouncer, however, and tossed across the diamond to end the frame as a promising threat went for naught.
The UF scoring onslaught continued into the bottom of the fourth as the Orange & Blue lead expanded to five tallies. A double to left center by catcher Aubree Munro ended Canion’s stint in the circle as Heather Stearns entered in a relief appearance. The new hurler managed to record the second out of the frame before Stewart ripped an RBI single just past the shortstop into left center, plating Munro to make it 5-0.
With Rogers fully in charge from the circle, UF mounted the decisive scoring threat in the bottom of the fifth. Haeger christened the frame with a base knock through the left side of the infield. Tofft soon followed with a two-bagger that traveled just inside the first base bag and down the line into the corner as pinch runner Jess Damico easily strolled into third. The old “swinging bunt” off the end of Little’s bat that ended up in no-man’s land out in front of the plate, packing the bags full of Gators with still no one retired in the frame. That set the stage for right fielder Justine McLean as her slow roller to second was tracked down, but a throw home for the force proved just late as Florida’s lead expanded to six. Another tally crossed as first baseman Taylor Schwarz was struck by a pitch. With the bags still packed full of Orange & Blue, Herndon crushed a walk-off grand slam to left center, completing the contest via the run-rule, 11-0 (5 inn.).