Gators begin Women’s College World Series with decisive win over Tennessee

Florida’s top ranked softball team relied on the same things that got them to the Women’s College World Series to pick up right where they left off the last time they came here.

Lauren Haeger allowed just one hit and two runs, homered and later scored on an error, Kelsey Stewart added a pair of hits and Florida dismantled Tennessee 7-2 in the first game of the WCWS. They’ll face the winner of LSU and Auburn tomorrow afternoon.

Haeger started the game off with a homer in the bottom of the first and and then went to work in the circle. No Tennessee hitter reached base until the fourth- at which point Florida had a 3-0 lead thanks to a two run homer from Kayli Kvistad- when Haeger hit a batter with an inside fastball. Unfortunately, that mistake was magnified when UT’s Megan Geer hit a home run of her own on the very next pitch, cutting the lead to 6-2.

But a myriad of Tennessee mistakes kept that homer from meaning anything in the end.

The Tennessee defense combined for four errors, three hit batters and a wild pitch to stake the Gators four more runs in their final three innings. It went something like this: Haeger started the bottom of the fourth with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch, Bailey Castro got hit by a pitch, an error by the second baseman let Haeger score and let Castro move to third, Kirsti Merrit (who was safe at first as a result of the aforementioned error) got nailed in the head in an attempt to catch her stealing, and then Castro scored on that little painful gift to give Florida two unearned runs in the 4th. A similar parade of miscues granted the Gators two more in the sixth, but at that point, it didn’t matter; Haeger was shutting the Vols down completely, and never let them even sniff a comeback after the 4th inning gifts.

Most amazing about the 7-2 score was that it could have been so much worse.

Florida left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings and then again in the sixth. This cannot happen against the really good teams they’ll need to beat in order to repeat as national champions. OK, so it turned out not to matter because Tennessee gave Florida a bunch of free runs to make up for it, but leaving the bases loaded half the times you come up to the plate without scoring on any of them is… well, bad. Tim Walton’s girls play great defense, and he’s got a great pitching staff… and they sometimes hit well, but if he wants to pick on them for anything, it’s getting clutch hits. Without those Tennessee blunders, this is a totally different game, and stranding all those runners is much more meaningful.

But then again, it’s a win, and wins at the WCWS are hard to come by. It was overall a solid performance to start the 2015 WCWS, and Florida now stands four wins away from a second straight national championship. That’s what matters.

That’s always been what matters.