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Florida 3, Auburn 2: Gators win thriller with walk-off RBI single, advance to WCWS final

Nicole DeWitt broke through in a big way late to send the Gators to the championship series.

This time, even in the Oklahoma chill, Florida had to sweat.

After seven postseason games that ended either without a run on the board for the other team or a three-run lead for the Gators, Auburn punched and counterpunched with Florida all afternoon in a fantastic game that had nerves fraying and breath bated.

And then Nicole DeWitt laced a single to left field in the bottom of the ninth inning, scoring speedy Justine McLean, giving the Gators a 3-2 walk-off win, punching Florida's ticket to its second consecutive Women's College World Series championship series, and allowing Gator Nation to exhale.

Auburn did more damage to Florida ace Lauren Haeger than any other team this postseason, putting a runner on base in all nine innings, and taking advantage of a stingy home plate umpire and some mistakes by Haeger — who seemed frustrated by the strike zone, and left some pitches over the plate — to threaten all day. After Florida opened the scoring in the bottom of the third with a McLean steal of home on a passed ball, the Tigers answered in the top of the fourth on a two-run single by Branndi Melero.

But Florida got a solo shot to left from Taylore Fuller in the bottom of the fourth, and kept an unusual distinction about its postseason intact: The Gators have yet to trail after any inning in the NCAA Tournament, and have now played 58 of them.

Both teams repeatedly put out fires with defense: Florida's Kirsti Merritt twice hung out Auburn runners to dry at the plate with outfield assists (the first also required an acrobatic tag by catcher Aubree Munro), while Auburn's Morgan Estell repaid the favor in the bottom of the eighth, hosing pinch runner Francesca Martinez on a potential game-winning sacrifice fly. The Tigers turned three double plays; Florida's two each stopped a go-ahead run from scoring.

But Haeger would eventually settle down: No Auburn player advanced past second after the fourth inning. And Florida eventually wore down Auburn workhorse Lexi Davis, who threw much of the two games the Tigers had to play on Saturday just to get to Sunday's meeting with the Gators — the first one between the SEC's regular season champion and the SEC Tournament titlist all season. That work helped force Auburn to go to pitchers Rachael Walters and Marcy Harper to try to avoid elimination, and Florida would eventually get to Harper for the winning run.

The victory is Florida's 14th consecutive win in the NCAA Tournament, one off the best streak in the event's history, and its eighth straight victory in Oklahoma City. No matter what team — LSU or Michigan — awaits the Gators on Monday in the first game of the WCWS championship series, Florida will have the knowledge that it has beaten that team twice this season, going 2-0 against Michigan and 2-2 against LSU.

And with Florida finally getting forced into hitting with a runner in scoring position by a team near its talent level — DeWitt's single was just Florida's hit with runners in scoring position in 29 attempts at the WCWS — the last flaw with what might be Tim Walton's best team may yet get fixed.

Even if it doesn't, Florida will have a chance to win a second straight national championship, something that hasn't been done since Arizona did so in 2006 and 2007.