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Florida Claims Its First National Championship With a 6-3 Victory over Alabama
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Florida (55-12) broke an early deadlock with a four-run fourth on the way to claiming the UF program’s first Women’s College World Series title by defeating Alabama on Tuesday at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., 6-3.
Delanie Gourley (15-1) earned the win for UF by tossing two innings of hitless relief with a walk and two strikeouts, while NFCA All-American Hannah Rogers garnered her second save of 2014 by allowing one earned run on two hits over two frames. Lauren Haeger started the match-up for the Gators, permitting two earned tallies on five hits with one K over three innings. Traina suffered the defeat for Alabama, dropping to 26-5 after giving up five earned runs on six hits with one walk in just 1.1 innings.
For Florida, center fielder Kirsti Merritt led the way by going 1-for-4 with a three-run HR. Second baseman Kelsey Stewart was 2-for-4 with two tallies and an RBI, while third baseman Stephanie Tofft went 1-for-3 with a solo HR. Center fielder Haylie McCleney (2-for-3, two runs) and second baseman Kaila Hunt (2-for-4, HR, two RBIs) each registered two of Alabama’s seven total hits.
"First of all, I just want to congratulate Alabama and their senior class on obviously a wonderful season and wonderful career for some," Florida head coach Tim Walton said. "This is kind of a surreal moment for me right now sitting up here with Hannah and all the other kids that bought into it this year. Did a really good job. We had a really good off‑season, felt really good and we just felt good about our team. We set a goal and most teams set goals to win every series or win the SEC or do some things, and this team actually set a goal to win a national championship. It's the first one we've ever talked about in my coaching. In 2009, talked about the ability to come out and be No. 1 with a target on our back, but this team felt like we had the parts and the pieces to do it. So very proud. Kinda gutsy and kinda bold, but just give them the credit. I think they did a great job of doing their part and taking the responsibility to be a good teammate, a good friend and a good player. But I want to give a hats off to all our players and staff."
Alabama’s offense came out ready to make an immediate statement against Haeger during the top of the first as McCleney and left fielder Kallie Case christened the contest with consecutive singles. The duo tagged up on a fly ball to right by Hunt, with the speedster McCleney barely sliding in safely on a strong throw to third by Florida’s Bailey Castro. That set the stage for an RBI single to shallow center off the bat of right fielder Jadyn Spencer as the Crimson Tide nabbed a quick 1-0 lead. Haeger rebounded from the rough start, however, to strikeout Molly Fichtner looking and induce a Traina groundout to short to limit the damage to just a single tally.
UA’s lead lasted only minutes as Tofft drove a first-inning shot the other way to left that just cleared the wall for a two-out, game-tying solo HR. Bidding for more, Florida put a pair aboard via a Haeger single, that ricocheted off Traina, and a walk, but left fielder Briana Little grounded out harmlessly to short to leave the duo stranded.
Florida blew the game open with one out in the bottom of the second. Consecutive singles from catcher Aubree Munro, first baseman Taylor Schwarz and Stewart plated UF’s second tally. Merritt promptly stepped to the dish and knocked Traina from the contest by blasting a three-run HR to left as the Gators took a commanding 5-1 advantage.
Hunt managed to get one back for the Crimson Tide during the top of the third as the senior drove a two-out solo HR to left that cut the UA deficit to 5-2.
Traina got the top of the fourth off to a solid start at the plate for Alabama by driving a leadoff base knock to right center. In an interesting move, the decision was made to lift Haeger from the circle and summon freshman Gourley into the circle facing her first career WCWS action. She was greeted rudely by a long drive to left from designated player Marisa Runyon that was dropped for UF’s fourth error of the contest. With runners stationed at second and third and still no one out, the Gator hurler responded to the pressure by managing to get first baseman Leona Lafaele to foul out to first and then striking out third baseman Peyton Grantham for two vital outs. She walked the dangerous McCleney to load the bases and Case battled to 1-2 against Gourley before hitting a bouncer into the hole between first and second. Stewart raced over and despite bobbling the ball briefly, managed to retire Case on an inning-ending force out as ‘Bama let a massive opportunity get away.
After Florida left a pair stranded in the top of the fifth, Gourley firmly settled into the contest by retiring Alabama’s No. 3, 4 & 5 hitters in order in the bottom half.
Rogers entered the circle starting the sixth inning, requiring just six outs to secure the Gator program its first national title. She was all business from the very start, retiring Traina, Runyon and Lafaele in order on two groundouts and a fly out.
A bunt single by Stewart in the bottom of the sixth was cashed in for a big Florida insurance run as a two-out fielding miscue on a sharp shot to first by Tofft plated UF’s sixth tally. Pinch hitter Justine McLean followed immediately with a single to center, but Alabama’s McCleney gunned down Tofft on a strong toss to the plate to end the scoring rally.
Down to one final chance to extend ‘Bama’s season, pinch hitter Andrea Hawkins tried to get a UA threat started by opening the seventh with a shot to left center. Looking like the ball would drop in safely, Florida’s Merritt raced out of nowhere to make a tremendous diving catch for a “web gem” of a first out. McCleney followed by legging out a triple into the right center field gap as the Crimson Tide refused to go quietly. With two down, Hunt gave the Tide hope with an RBI single to right, but a Spencer bouncer back to the circle was handled by Rogers to finish off Florida’s 6-3 national title victory.