OKLAHOMA CITY — Before the Florida softball team took the field against Missouri in the final game of opening day at the Women’s College World Series, all six teams that played beforehand scored a combined six runs.
But the Gators did not get the memo to not put runs up on the board as they tied that mark, beating the Tigers 6-2 on Thursday. Florida will next face Arizona State on Friday at 9:30 p.m.
Coming into the WCWS, Missouri ace Chelsea Thomas posted the nation’s best earned run average at 0.83, but that didn’t stop the Gators from getting eight hits on the day, including a home run each by All-Americans Michelle Moultrie and Megan Bush.
“I thought we had great at-bats all the way through the game,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said. “That’s one of the best pitchers in the country and I thought we did a really good job handling all of those pitches.”
Before the team departed Gainesville to play at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, senior Kelsey Bruder said Thomas would have trouble facing the type of offense the Gators have, and it showed through.
“I do think we’re some of the best hitters in the country and I think to this game, she hadn’t given up more than three runs and that speaks to her pitching,” Bruder said. “She’s a tremendous pitcher. I don’t think I’ve seen an array of pitches like that in a long time.”
As the home team, Florida scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning thanks to two sequences of singles and sac bunts by Moultrie, Aja Paculba, Bruder, and Brittany Schutte.
Moultrie scored from second thanks to Bruder’s single that resulted on her reaching third due to an error by Tigers center fielder Rhea Taylor.
Schutte, who hit three home runs against Oregon in the Super Regional last weekend, dropped a bunt for the Gators, who executed the squeeze play to perfection.
Walton made the decision to run the squeeze as a testament to the Gators’ effort of playing more small ball in the postseason.
“We’re letting everybody know, ‘Hey, you can’t play us behind the bag. We’re going to bunt and we’re going to be successful,” he said.
Florida’s pitching duo of senior Stephanie Brombacher and freshman Hannah Rogers held the Tigers to four hits on the day.
Despite giving up two runs to Missouri in the top of the sixth, Rogers was flawless coming in relief of Brombacher in the third inning as she had runners on first and third with only one out.
After retiring the side in the first inning, Brombacher let the first two batters get on base in the second before retiring the next three. In the third, Walton decided to pull her with the fourth, fifth and sixth batters next to bat.
“I actually thought this was one of her best outings as far as her stuff was concerned,” Walton said in regards to his senior pitcher. “She looked really good tonight. I didn’t want her to pull her at all. But I just felt like their offense was too good.”
Walton said despite hesitating to make the tough decision, in the end bringing in Rogers was the right move to make.
“Hannah’s an All-American pitcher now so that will always be with her and if you’re an All-American pitcher, you’re going to come in and get outs,” he said.
Walton said he was proud of the “calmness” his team showed throughout practice this week leading up to the game as it led to the determination and confidence it needed to win.
“We were prepared,” he said. “I thought we watched enough video to get ourselves ready to go and I thought we came out and executed a great game plan.”
Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.