Florida, Alabama Advance to Softball Championship Series

Florida, Alabama Advance to Softball Championship Series

OKLAHOMA CITY - In 2012, the University of Alabama defeated the University of Oklahoma 5-4 to become the first SEC team to win the NCAA Division I national championship. Sunday, before a turnout of 8,910, an SEC team was guaranteed to win the conference's second national title.

It came about after no. 5 seeded Florida (53-12) remained unbeaten with a 6-3 win over Baylor of the Big 12 Conference and No 2 seeded Alabama (53-11) shutout No. 1 seed and No. 1 ranked Oregon, 2-0, behind the four-hit pitching of Jaclyn Traina.  

The Crimson Tide and the Gators will meet Monday evening at 6 p.m. (CT) in the first game of a best-of-three championship series to decide the 2014 NCAA national softball champion. Baylor, which had overcome a 7-0 deficit the night before in eliminating Kentucky, 8-7 in eight innings, was limited to five hits by Florida right-hander Hannah Rogers. Rogers (29-8) allowed three earned runs with one walk and two strikeouts in pitching her sixth complete game of the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor trailed 5-0 before the Bears scored all their runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to pull within two, 5-3 on a two-run single by Kaitlyn Thumann. The RBIs were her first of the WCWS.
Florida, which will appear in the championship finals for the third time in six years, took the early lead on an RBI two-out double in the third inning by Stephanie Tofft, who finished the game 2-for-3 with two RBIs and one run scored. She is 11 for 24 (.458) with 8 RBIs in nine NCAA tournament games this year. 

Florida junior Briana Little smashed a triple to the center field wall in the fourth inning and scored two batters later on Aubree Munro's squeeze bunt, increasing the Gators' lead to 2-0. Little was 2-for-3 on the day with two runs. She is 4-for-8 in this year's WCWS.

With two outs in the top of the fifth, sophomore Taylor Schwartz belted a three-run double to give Florida a 5-0 lead before the Bears cut the game to its final margin in the bottom half of the inning on an RBI double by Jordan Strickland and Thumann's single. The first run broke a 22.2 scoreless innings streak by the Florida defense. The last run the Gators had allowed came on Sunday, May 15th in the fifth inning of the second Super Regional game against Washington.

Senior Whitney Canion hurled the loss for the Bears, who finished 49-16 and had lost 11-0 to the Gators in their opening game in five innings. Canion hurled 151 pitches and allowed eight hits, six runs (all earned) while striking out five and walking three. She was 31-12 this season in closing out an outstanding career at Baylor, finishing with 123 wins, third best in Big 12 conference history. She had 16 wins in postsesason play and is one of four Baylor seniors on this year's team.

Canion, who didn't look sharp earlier in the tourney, said, "I've been struggling a little bit with not getting my rise ball where I wanted. Today I thought I came out and really used my other pitches a lot. Used my screw ball, drop curve and change-up and relied on those and got a lot of foul balls and pop-ups and ground outs because of that. I was trying to work ahead and get them to foul pitches off and get them to chase after that. My body felt better today and just felt, like at the same time, I was really going off adrenaline and knowing that this team, we could come back and score six or seven runs in the last inning. So I just had to keep the team in it."

After Baylor cut the deficit to two 5-3 and Florida added a run in the sixth, Rogers retired the last six batters in a row in hurling 96 pitches. Rogers got great support from the Gator defense, which hasn't made an error in its three consecutive WCWS games and is bidding to become the fourth team in WCWS history to play errorless ball in the event.

Baylor’s third appearance in the WCWS ended much like the 2011 team’s run did: in the semi-finals. Baylor was ranked No. 17 in the nation, and seeded No. 13 beginning with the Super Regional round. However, the Lady Bears upset No. 4 seed Georgia in the Super Regional and took down No. 8 seed Florida State Friday before beating Kentucky Friday night.

Alabama and Oregon, making its first appearance in the semifinals, were scoreless through four innings before Alabama scored twice in the bottom of the fifth. Sophomore Haylie McCleney hit a 1-1 pitch thrown by Oregon's Cheridan Hawkins over the right field fence for her 10th homer of the season. She entered the game hitting .441, which is a team best.

Karissa Hovinga, who made two relief appearances earlier in the weekend, got her first start in Oklahoma City against the Crimson Tide. After she gave up a one-out single in the fourth inning, the Ducks made the switch from Hovinga to All-American Hawkins. She retired the first two batters she faced to keep it scoreleess going into the fifth. She hurled three and one-third innings, allowing five of the nine Alabama hits.

After a strikeout and a fly out, Kaila Hunt walked and came home on Molly Fichtner's bloop single before Hawkins struck out Leona Lafaele to end the inning. Oregon, which was appearing in its third WCWS,  got a pair of singles in the top of the seventh in between two outs before Traina fanned Karine Shaver to put the Crimson Tide in the championship finals for the second time in three years. Oregon finished 56-9-1.

Oregon left a pair of runners on in the first inning and one in the third before the hard-throwing Traina retired 11 batters in a row before Kailee Cuico singled to right to open the seventh inning. Traina, who had a pair of singles in three trips to the plate, is now 26-3 on the season and 3-0 in the WCWS. She fanned seven batters and has 22 strikeouts in 21 innings, allowing nine hits and only one run. Two of the four hits she allowed against Oregon were two bunt singles by leadoff batter Courtney Ceo.