The Florida softball team faced a tall order on Sunday. Coming out of the loser's bracket, the Gators needed to defeat SEC rival Alabama twice to advance to the WCWS Championship Series. They would have to face Alabama pitcher Kelsi Dunne, who had not allowed a run in her first two WCWS games. The Gators were up to the task.
Really, really up to the task.
The first game was basically over in the first inning as the Gators plated a WCWS-record 11 runs, chasing Dunne in the process. The Gators continued their barrage of Tide pitching throughout the game as they tacked on five additional runs to earn the 16-2 mercy rule win in five innings, and force an elimination game against 'Bama later in the day.
The Gators belted four home runs in hitting for the homer cycle: a leadoff homer by Michelle Moultrie (her 3rd of the series); a two-run shot by Ensley Gammel; a three-run blast by Cheyenne Coyle; and a grand slam by clean-up hitter Brittany Schutte. Senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher got the start for the Gators and went the distance for her 20th win on the season. Brombacher allowed just two runs on three hits over five innings against the Tide, allowing coach Tim Walton to rest Hannah Rogers for the second game.
In the nightcap, the Gators picked up right where they left off in the first game, by scoring three runs in the top of the first. Moultrie led off with a single and then Kelsey Bruder and Schutte cranked back-to-back homers to take a 3-0 lead. The Gators loaded the bases to start the third, again chasing Alabama starter Dunne in the process. Cheyenne Coyle then greeted Alabama freshman reliever Jackie Traina with a two-RBI single to extend the Gator lead to 5-0.
The Gators added a run in the fourth when Kasey Fagan tagged up and scored all the way from second base on a deep fly ball from Bruder to make it 6-0 Florida. In the top half of the seventh, Aja Paculba drove the final nail in the Tide coffin with a three-run homer to left center to make it 9-0 Gators.
Hannah Rogers was brilliant on the mound for the Gators, taking a one hitter into the seventh inning before the Tide finally plated two on three hits to reach the final score of 9-2. Rogers earned her 36th win of the season, allowing just four hits with seven strikeouts and just one walk.
With the sweep of Alabama and Saturday's win over Cal, the Gators survived three elimination games in two days, and have put up plenty of impressive numbers in the process. Eight different Gators have hit home runs in the WCWS, Florida has put up 41 runs on 11 homers, and the Orange and Blue improved to 11-7 all-time in WCWS action.
Florida will now face the No. 1-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils, and ace pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who dealt the Gators their only WCWS defeat in a thrilling 6-5 game on Friday. Escobedo is 35-3 on the season, after pitching a complete game 4-0 shutout against No. 11 Baylor Sunday to put the Sun Devils in the Championship Series. The Gators have been the only team capable of hitting Escobedo in the WCWS, as the freshman phenom only yielded a total of one run in the Sun Devils' other two games. Both teams are loaded offensively, so look for more exciting games between the finalists. the Gators have scored five or more runs in all five of their WCWS games thus far. Both teams will be making their second Championship Series appearance and Florida will look to become the first SEC team to ever win a softball national title. The Pac-10 has dominated the sport, winning 22 of the 28 WCWS titles. Arizona State won the title in 2008.
The best-of-three Championship Series begins Monday night at 8 p.m. (Eastern) with Game 2 scheduled for Tuesday at 8 p.m. and the decisive Game 3 (if necessary) Wednesday at 8 p.m. All games will be televised live on ESPN2.