Florida captures first NCAA title in program’s 16-year history
Florida overcame a midseason slide before making a postseason run that resulted in the school’s first NCAA softball championship. The Gators (55-12) finished off a near perfect NCAA tournament run by sweeping SEC rival Alabama in the Women’s College World Series finals in Oklahoma City.
They went 10-1 in NCAA tourney play by outscoring opponents by a whopping 81-10 margin and were 5-0 at the WCWS. They did it behind the strong right arm of senior pitcher Hannah Rogers, who was named MVP of the WCWS, a defense that turned a WCWS-record seven double plays and an offense that batted .331, nearly 60 points higher than the next best hitting team in the eight-team WCWS field.
Rogers, one of two seniors on a squad that will defend its title a year from now with many of the same faces, posted a 4-0 mark with a 1.00 ERA at the WCWS. She was 7-0 overall with a 0.64 ERA during the NCAA tourney. Rogers sensed something was special about this team from the first game
of the season.
“All the hard work we put in as a team this year and all the hard work I’ve put in these past four years, it’s just amazing to finish it off like this,” Rogers said after a celebration ceremony in Gainesville. “I wouldn’t want to finish it off any other way.”
Players were bussed straight to Pressly Stadium after arriving at the Gainesville Regional Airport. The ceremony featured speeches by UF athletic director Jeremy Foley and president Bernie Machen in front of an estimated crowd of more than 1,500 fans.
“This wasn’t just Florida’s team, this was America’s team,” Machen said. “This university aspires to be in the Top 10. When we get there, we’ll have a softball team that’s already there.”
Gators coach Tim Walton deserves tons of praise for elevating the program. He also deserves credit for making a tough decision by starting Lauren Haeger instead of Rogers in Game 2 of the WCWS. Many were skeptical heading into the game after Rogers rolled over the Tide in Game 1, but Walton stuck to his guns despite some of his own second-guessing the night before.
“I honestly didn’t sleep very well last night,” Walton said at the post-game presser. “Not that I don’t have trust and faith in Lauren. I do. Delanie (Gourley) as well. But Hannah was just on fire.
“But we’ve talked all year that we don’t have a superstar on our team. We have a bunch of players who do their job. [This game] was a tribute to that.”
A few weeks earlier, it didn’t seem as if the team was destined to finish on top during a losing streak that saw UF drop six of seven games, including a pair at Alabama. But the Gators rebounded by winning 24 of their next 28 games to take home the first national title in the program’s 16-year history.