Florida, Michigan Remain Alive in Loser's Bracket of NCAA Women's College World Series

 Florida, Michigan Remain Alive in Loser’s Bracket

 of  NCAA Women’s College World Series

OKLAHOMA CITY – Florida managed to stay alive in the loser’s bracket Saturday of the 32nd annual Women’s College World Series, but played the longest game in the history of the program, 15 innings, to do it. The Gators defeated a never-say-die Nebraska team, 9-8, to advance to Sunday’s elimination game at noon against Texas (50-9).

While Florida and Nebraska took more than five hours to play the first loser’s bracket game Saturday evening, Michigan did something no team has done this season to fourth ranked Arizona State by shutting out the Sun Devils, 2-0, behind the seven-hit pitching of Sara Driesenga (31-8).  Michigan, which lost its opening game to No. 1 ranked Oklahoma, will play Washington in an elimination game 2:30 pm following the noon game.

The only runs Michigan needed to even its WCWS record at 1-1 came courtesy of a two-run homer by Big Ten Player of the Year shortstop Sierra Romeo, who hit her 23rd homer of the season over the fence in right field in the third inning off Sun Devil starter and losing pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who lasted two and one-third innings, allowing three hits with three strikeouts and three walks. Mackenzie Popescue relieved her in the third inning with one out and retired the next two batters to finish the inning. She allowed three hits in finishing the game.

One of the top hitting teams in the country, the Sun Devils gave Driesenga some anxious moments by stranding nine runners and loading the bases twice. But each time Michigan kept the Sun Devils from scoring with solid defense including a double play in the seventh inning when the Sun Devils threatened again.  ASU finished its season with a 50-12 record, going two-and-out in the WCWS for the fourth time in program history and the first since 2007, Clint Myers’ second season as head coach.

The game didn’t begin until 11:54 p.m. local time Saturday, pushed back more than three hours by a wild 15-inning affair between No. 2 Florida and No. 14 Nebraska that lasted five hours and 20 minutes.  “We wouldn’t have envisioned that you’re going to have a 15-inning game before you play,” Myers said. “We went and warmed up, and we watched a doubleheader.  (But) no excuses. We didn’t get the job done. We haven’t made an excuse all year long.”

Whether the wait had anything to do with it or not, the Sun Devils came out flat on both sides of the ball. Escobedo (30-6) didn’t look right from the start, walking one batter and hitting another in the first inning, which she escaped only after throwing 31 pitches.  When she ran into trouble again in the third, giving up a two-run homer to Michigan shortstop Sierra Romero and then loading the bases with one out, Myers didn’t hesitate to bring in junior Mackenzie Popescue.  The move paid off, as Popescue struck out Lauren Sweet and got Sierra Lawrence on a groundout to end the inning. Popescue kept Michigan (51-12) scoreless through the final four and two-third innings frames to keep ASU in the game.

“I was very anxious out there,” Escobedo said. “I feel like I was trying too hard to put it in the zone when I should’ve just done what I’ve been doing all season.  “It just wasn’t with me tonight, so Mack came in and shut it down.”  But the Sun Devils couldn’t manage anything offensively against Michigan starter Sara Driesenga (31-8), who handed ASU its only shutout of the season after allowing seven hits and striking out five over seven innings. “I thought we did a pretty good job swinging the bats,” sophomore catcher Amber Freeman said. “We squared a lot of balls of up, so we’re OK with that. We just didn’t get the timely hitting that we really needed.”

Florida (58-8) erased an early 2-0 deficit against the Huskers Saturday with a monster six-run fifth inning to rally back for a 6-2 lead in the top of the frame. Nebraska added a third run in the bottom of the sixth before also putting up three in a chaotic seventh inning to send the game into extra innings, 6-6, UF’s eighth extra-innings contest of the season.  After the squads traded homers in the 10th inning, sophomore Briana Little homered for the Gators in the top of the inning and Taylor Edwards smashed a homer over the fence to lead off the bottom of the inning, four scoreless innings of free softball ensued with the game tied at 7-7 for the standing room only crowd at  ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

In the top of the 15th, something gave when freshman Taylore Fuller’s grounder skipped past Nebraska shortstop Alicia Armstrong and into right center field, allowing a pair of Gators runners to score what turned out to be the decisive runs.  Florida would need both of those runs as Nebraska led off the bottom of the 15th with a double and got within 9-8 in the home half of the inning. Tatum Edwards drew a two-out walk and Gabby Banda followed with a single to left side, but Edwards was gunned down by Medina trying to get to third base. The game that started at 6:04 local time ended at 11:24 and the15-inning clash was the longest in UF softball history. The marathon additionally marked the longest under the new WCWS format.

Junior ace Hannah Rogers rebounded Saturday and hurled the first seven innings of UF’s Saturday elimination game for the Orange and Blue (8.0 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K) before coming on for the final frame to pick up her fifth save of the season in the 15th and final inning. Sophomore right-hander Lauren Haeger came on in relief in extra innings with the game tied 7-7 to pick up the decision for the Gators (7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) and improve to 16-2 in the circle for Florida.

A total of 534 pitches were hurled Saturday night, as all four pitchers – two for each squad – eclipsed the 100 mark, with Husker starting pitcher Tatum Edwards tossing 185 on the night. Little’s eight at bats Saturday set a new Florida individual game record, while the Gators’ 62 at bats as a team were a new single-game team record. Tatum Edwards (9.1 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 12 K) started the game for Nebraska and, like Rogers, was relieved but came back on in the circle later in the game and picked up the decision (30-10).

Several highlight-reel defensive plays highlighted the game for Florida while the Gators connected for 13 hits on the night, as four players had double-digit hits and nine had at least one.

Florida is now 12-10 (.545) all-time in the WCWS and moved to 6-2 (.750) in extra-innings contests this season. Florida’s come-from-behind after the Gators’ overcame a 2-0 deficit marked the 22nd for UF this season. The Orange and Blue own a 49-30 (.620) all-time record in the NCAA Tournament, including a 44-20 (.688) record under eighth year head coach Tim Walton.