Florida’s top ranked softball team is just three wins away from their second consecutive national championship.
Again, Lauren Haeger homered for herself and then threw a gem from the pitching circle. Again, Florida’s defense played spectacularly. Again, Florida stranded several runners on base. And again, that didn’t matter.
LSU, the same team that came into Gainesville and took two out of three from the Gators in the regular season, looked confused at the plate against Haeger. The Tigers could only collect five hits, and after the first inning, failed to have a runner reach second base. Making matters worse for the Bayou Bengals, the Tigers’ defense committed a similar parade of blunders to the one Tennessee did yesterday. They didn’t make four errors, but they did make two, including a throwing error in an attempt to nail Kirsti Merritt stealing third that allowed Merritt to score an unnecessary insurance run.
Leaving all those runners on base is concerning, yes. The fact that Florida’s four runs came on two homers (one by Haeger, the other one by Nicole DeWitt) and an error is concerning as well. Florida’s not getting clutch hits with runners in scoring position. For example, Kelsey Stewart led off the game with a deep drive to right center that hit the top of the wall, three or four inches short of being a home run. She wound up on third with a triple, and then perished there. You can’t have a runner on third with no outs- and then bases loaded with one out- and not score at all if you want to win a national championship. I keep saying this, though, and Florida keeps stranding a slew of runners, yet here they are in the national semifinals. It goes to show just how tremendous the Gators’ defense is, and how clutch Lauren Haeger is both as a pitcher and a hitter.
To bring the awesomeness of the win full circle, Haeger’s homer today made her the first player in NCAA history to record 70 pitching wins and 70 homers. The only other player to do this in either baseball or softball at any level from high school to professional is Babe Ruth. How about that company.
Florida gets tomorrow off before playing in the pool championship game on Sunday, which amounts to a national semifinal. Whoever they play would have to beat them twice to advance. Or, flip that around: the Gators get two shots at advancing to the national championship series next week. Win once on Sunday, and the Gators go back to the national championship series for the fourth time in the last seven years.
And get to play for their second straight national title.