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Gators Snap Up 2014 National Crown

Florida's Efficient Pitching & Big Swinging Offense Too Much for Alabama

By TSC Analyst/Contributor DANIEL URBAN 
 
OKLAHOMA CITY The Florida Gators are your 2014 NCAA national champion. The Gators capped off a highly successful 55-12 regular season with a historic 1st-ever national championship in softball.

The Gators are no stranger to Women's College World Series success: they earned NCAA runner-up honors in 2009 and 2011, but 2014 is the first time they will return to Gainsville with championship hardware.
 
This series featured two big-name teams from elite conferences with plenty of championship caliber players. The Florida Gators were led by senior pitcher Hannah Rogers. Rogers pitched the Gators to a national title appearance in 2011 but came up short to a talented Arizona State team.

The Alabama Crimson Tide was equally qualified to win it all.  For those of you out there with sharp memories, recall that the Tide won the NCAA title two years ago by defeating Keilani Ricketts and the Oklahoma Sooners. And Alabama still has their ace pitcher from the 2011 championship squad in Jaclyn Traina who excelled all season.
 
The stage was set for an epic clash, but Florida proved early that they were the superior team. This WCWS final was all Florida all the way. The Gators excelled both from the circle and from the plate and defeated a very good Alabama team.
 
It started with an electric performance from Florida ace Hannah Rogers in game #1. Rogers was not overpowering but she was devastatingly efficient.  In game #1 Rogers pitched all 7 innings, scattered only 4 hits, gave up 0 earned runs, 0 walks, and threw 3 strikeouts.

Rogers's shutout performance was emblematic of her starts all through the postseason. She threw very few strikeouts (while most elite softball pitchers throw dozens), but she prevented Alabama hitters from making solid contact and allowed her defense to generate outs.

The Florida offense also did its job well, led by sophomore outfielder Kirsti Merritt and senior 3rd baseman Stephanie Toft.  In game #1 Toft led the team with 2 RBI and Merritt contributed an RBI double. The Gators ended up with 5 runs and defeated Alabama 5-0.
 
Game #2 was not as easy on the Gators. Florida elected to start junior pitcher Lauren Haegar in the circle to give Rogers some much needed rest and have her fresh for an if-needed game 3.

Haeger started slow and was replaced in the 4th inning after throwing 3 innings and allowing 5 hits, 2 earned runs and just 1 strikeout. Despite her mediocre performance she did leave the game with her team in the lead 4-2.

Haegar was replaced by freshman Delaney Gourley who did a great job preventing Alabama from mounting a comeback. In 2 innings of work Gourley allowed 0 hits, 0 earned runs and struck out 2.

With the Gators up 5-2 in the 6th inning the ball was given back to Hannah Rogers who pitched the final 2 decisive innings to secure the championship for Florida.
 
The Florida offense was again led by Stephanie Toft and Kirsti Merritt. Toft hit a solo home run in the first inning to set the tone, and Merritt hit a 3-run home run in the 2nd inning to give Florida a lead it never gave up.
 
Florida's efficient and effective pitching and its big swinging offense were the main stories of this year's WCWS, but an equally compelling story was the unexpectedly poor performance of Alabama pitcher Jaclyn Traina.

Traina led her team to a WCWS title just 2 years ago, and she has been on a tear leading up to the WCWS finale. But she fell apart versus Florida.

In game #1 Traina pitched 6 innings and allowed 8 hits and 4 earned runs.

But as bad as she was in game #1, she was worse in game #2; she was pulled after 1.1 innings after allowing 6 hits and 5 earned runs including the aforementioned home runs to Stephanie Toft and Kirsti Merritt.

I was expecting much more out of Traina, but for as much as Alabama relied on her to carry the team through to the WCWS, it seems likely she simply ran out of gas by the time the WCWS finale rolled around.
 
Congratulations to the 2014 national champion Florida Gators, a very classy team that worked hard to earn its first title and performed at its best when it counted the most. Good show! Read more.

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