OKLAHOMA CITY – It was just two days ago the Florida softball team lost to Arizona State, putting them just one loss away from its season’s end at the Women’s College World Series.
The Gators seemed defeated with their backs against the wall, and needed to win two games against SEC rival Alabama to keep their season alive.
On Sunday, the Gators dismantled the Crimson Tide in front of crowds of 7,726 and 5,447 fans respectively at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
After rolling the Tide in the first game by a 16-2 margin in five innings, Florida picked up where it left off hitting back-to-back home runs in the first inning off of Alabama ace Kelsi Dunne (29-6) for three runs, which lead to a 9-2 victory.
The Gators (56-11) advanced to the championship series for the second time in three years and will face Arizona State again on Monday, needing two more wins to clinch their first National Championship in school history.
SEC Player of the Year Kelsey Bruder, who was walked in every at-bat in the first game, smashed the first pitch she saw from Dunne to center field bringing in Michelle Moultrie. Several pitches later, Schutte connected for her second home run on Sunday to give UF the early lead.
“I actually saw 12 straight balls, Bruder said. “I didn’t get one strike so I was a little bit anxious, but I still tried to keep my composure, and not get greedy and swing at pitches that were balls.”
In the top of the third, Bruder got hit by a pitch and Dunne gave up two consecutive singles to Schutte and Megan Bush before being pulled from the game, bringing an end to her career for the Crimson Tide.
Florida head coach Tim Walton said being familiar with Dunne over her four years helped his team recognize her pitchers and make better adjustments against her at the plate.
The end result – scoring 25 runs on Alabama’s entire pitching staff and breaking their streak of 30 consecutive scoreless innings pitched.
The only plus-side in this game for Alabama (53-11) was breaking freshman Hannah Rogers’ one-hit shutout in the top of the seventh as the Tide scored two runs off three hits.
The All-American (36-7) started in the circle for the Gators and retired 18 of the first 19 batters she faced. She credited pitching with the lead as the main force behind her seven-strikeout performance.
“When our hitters come out attacking the ball, it helps me a lot,” Rogers said. “It allows me to go out and have fun with my pitches, and hit spots that they’re going to miss.”
With the wins, Florida became only the fifth team since 1994 to reach the WCWS finals after winning both games on Sunday. The last team to do so was two years ago when Washington defeated Georgia before moving on to beat the Gators for the national title.
Florida will go up against an Arizona State team looking to win their second championship after winning the first in 2008.
Led by freshman All-American Dallas Escobedo, the Sun Devils have won the only three games they’ve played this WCWS.
In 21 innings of work, Escobedo has allowed 18 hits while striking out 26. Of the six runs she’s given up, five were to Florida.
Bruder said she doesn’t expect the best-of-three series with ASU (58-6) to be low scoring because of the capabilities of both offenses, but wants Brombacher and Rogers to pitch with the lead and ensure the offense remains consistent throughout the game.
Nonetheless, she is excited for the opportunity her team has to win its first championship, and the first for the Southeastern Conference.
“This is the moment that you play for,” Bruder said. “This is what we’ve been training year-in, year-out for. This is the 6 a.m. (workouts). This is the touching every step of our (football) stadium that seats 90,000. This is everything to us and there are no other words for that. This is everything.”
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.