The Florida softball express was finally derailed Friday night in a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the No. 1 ranked Arizona State Sun Devils. Arizona State jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the first three innings due in part to a shaky pitching start by senior Stephanie Brombacher (who was chased with none out in the second inning) and some shakier Gator defense. A 4-0 lead in the WCWS is the equivalent to a four touchdown lead in football, especially when facing ASU's first team All-American pitcher Dallas Escobedo. But this Gators team was not going to go quietly.
In the top of the fourth inning, the Gators' bats came alive. Megan Bush drew a walk before Tiffany DeFelice belted a two run homer to cut the Sun Devil lead to 4-2. With two out in the fourth, the rally continued as sophomore Ensley Gammel singled up the middle and Michelle Moultrie followed with her second home run to dead away center of the series, to tie the game. After an Aja Paculba single and Kelsey Bruder walk, clean-up hitter Brittany Schutte belted a double to left center scoring Paculba. But the Gators' aggressive baserunning backfired, as Bruder was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first, ending the inning.
The Gators lead was short lived, as ASU hero Annie Lockwood tied the game in the bottom of the fourth on a solo homer to right center, her second hit of the game. Neither team could score in the fifth and the Gators squandered an excellent chance to take the lead in the sixth. Moultrie doubled to lead off the inning, her third hit of the night and fifth of the series. Coach Tim Walton failed to ask number two hitter Paculba to bunt Moultrie to third, instead letting her hit away. Paculba popped out weakly to short and then Bruder hit a long flyout to left, which would have easily scored Moultrie from third. Unfortunately, Moultrie was still at second, where she would eventually be stranded to end the inning.
Arizona State went quietly in the sixth, as did the Gators in their half of the seventh, setting the stage for a dramatic finish. Coach Walton was beside himself as an already small strike zone became microscopic late in the game, forcing both teams to throw over the plate to potent hitters. ASU drew a one-out walk before Katelyn Boyd singled down the right field line, advancing pinch runner Talor Haro to third with one out. The next batter hit a ground ball to third, but freshman Kasey Fagen fielded it cleanly and threw out Haro at the plate for the second out, giving the Gators hope. Hannah Rogers then walked a batter to load the bases and bring up Lockwood, who on a 2-2 count, hit a rocket off the glove of Fagen at third to win it for the Sun Devils.
Rogers absorbed the loss for the Gators to move to 34-7 on the season and Escobedo earned the win for ASU, to move to 34-3 while striking out twelve Gators. Escobedo had to work for it though, as she threw a career-high 174 pitches on the night.
Florida now drops to the loser's bracket and at 7pm Saturday will face the winner of the noon game between the California Golden Bears and the Oklahoma State Cowgirls in an elimination game. Should the Gators win Saturday, they will have to win twice more on Sunday to advance to the best-of-three Championship series. Saturday's game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.