Checking off all the boxes
Balanced Florida team sets sights on championship series
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Florida continues to fire on all cylinders at the 2014 Women's College World Series.
You need pitching?
You need defense?
Every team in the field has committed at least one error -- except Florida. Sunday saw the Gators' third double play of the week and steady play behind Rogers.
"We played really well today on defense," UF head coach Tim Walton said. "We made some nice plays and that really set the tone for us. Hannah pitched a wonderful game and had a wonderful regular part of the World Series; Hannah is throwing the ball well, defensively great, and we got some nice clutch hits … Steph [Tofft] breaking [the Baylor] game open with the first ribbie, Taylor Schwarz a nice two-out hit.
"The little things are what helps you win games here at the College World Series."
Good defense is nothing new for Walton's team. Shortstop Katie Medina is not expected to drive in runs; Medina, a junior from Downey, California, along with Aubree Munro behind the plate, Kelsey Stewart at second base, and Kirsti Merritt in center field give the Gators a solid unit up the middle.
"We practice really hard every day," said Tofft, UF's third baseman. "That is a big reason why we win. Nobody is perfect but coach puts a lot of time working on defense."
"It is an expectation I hold for myself," said Medina, who has just three errors in 2014. "I strive to be perfect on the field, especially for Hannah when she is pitching."
Need some offense?
As a group, the Gators are hitting .308 (24-for-78) this week. When Tofft doubled in a run in the top of the third, some Gator fans were already thinking about Monday night. When Munro's bunt scored Briana Little in the fourth for a 2-0 margin, it was almost as if Don Meredith of Monday Night Football fame was humming, "turn out the lights, the party's over."
Baylor made a run, scoring three runs in the fifth, but Rogers came back to retire the final seven Bears to send the Gators to Monday.
"I am just trying to help out the team, hit when I can and help out as much as I can," said Tofft, who was 2-for-3 on Sunday.
Through three games, UF has outscored its opponents 21-3. On Monday night, the Gators will begin play in the best-of-three championships series for the second time in four years.
As a freshman, Rogers was part of a group that took Florida to the promised land. However, it was another freshman, Arizona State's Dallas Escobedo, who celebrated with teammates after winning a national championship. Behind a potent Sun Devil offense, Escobedo was the benefactor of 21 runs in two lopsided victories.
Rogers, now a senior, hopes the second time around on softball's biggest stage has a storybook ending.
"I am definitely looking forward to it," Rogers said after Sunday's win. "Sunday, I just used my defense like I have all year long; I will continue to use them. And the team is hitting really well; everything is working together right now."
Every coach and batter that has faced Rogers this week has echoed the same thoughts.
"I'm certainly going to be happy now that Dallas Escobedo and Hannah Rogers are graduating," Oregon head coach Mike White said after his team's 4-0 loss to UF on Friday night. "They have certainly been a pain in my butt the last few years."
Tofft and Rogers are the only seniors on the roster. Rogers is the only leftover from the 2011 WCWS squad -- Tofft started her career at Northern Illinois before transferring to Gainesville following the 2012 season.
"I was sitting at home on my couch watching the World Series because my season was already over," Tofft said.
While Florida's season remained alive, Baylor's ended just more than 17 hours after an emotionally draining comeback. Down 7-0 entering the bottom of the sixth inning to Kentucky and Kelsey Nunley, BU head coach Glen Moore's squad rallied with seven runs to tie it, then win it in the eighth when Kaitlyn Thurman, who led off with a double, scored on a throwing error after Ari Hawkins had laid down a bunt.
"I won't forget that one until I forget who I am," Moore said. "Three outs to go and I was thinking there is not much hope; I turned to my little boy in the dugout and I said, 'You aren't going to cry after this are you?' And he said, 'Cry? We're going to win!' And I was like 'yeah, that's the kind of faith I need right now.'"