GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida clinched its sixth appearance in the Women’s College World Series on Sunday, splitting a pair of games with Washington to win their best-of-three super regional, two games to one. The Huskies took Game 2 of the series 4-3, before Kirsti Merritt’s walkoff home run secured an 8-0 (five innings) victory for the Gators in the deciding contest.
The Gators (50-12) struck first when Kelsey Stewart walked to begin Game 2, and then stole second before coming home on Stephanie Tofft’s RBI double to center field. Staked to a 1-0 lead, Lauren Haeger allowed a leadoff single to the Huskies (37-15) before stranding the runner at second.
The Orange and Blue were retired in order in the second. Washington evened the score at one run apiece in the home half with a bunt single and a two-out bloop hit to center. Florida had singles from Stewart and Tofft in the third inning, but both were left on base. Haeger set the Huskies down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the frame, including two strikeouts.
Florida had two baserunners in the fourth on a fielder’s choice and a hit-by-pitch, but the runners were stranded. Washington took the lead in the bottom of the inning with a two-out double and a run-scoring single. Tofft beat out a bunt single with one out in the fifth, setting up a go-ahead two-run home run by Haeger off the scoreboard in left-center field.
Washington had a leadoff single in the bottom of the fifth, and the Huskies regained the lead at 4-3 on a two-run home run with two outs in the frame. Merritt and Taylor Schwarz knocked back-to-back singles to start the sixth, and both moved up one base on Aubree Munro’s sacrifice. Taylore Fuller reached on a fielder’s choice as a pinch-hitter, but Merritt was thrown out at home on the play, and Stewart flew out deep to center for the third out.
Haeger (10-3) retired the Huskies in order in the bottom of the sixth. Tofft singled to lead off the seventh, but she was erased on a double play. Briana Little then reached on a Washington fielding error, but the Huskies forced a third and deciding game on a flyout to left.
Hannah Rogers retired the Huskies in order to start Game 3, and Stewart set the table for the Gators with an infield single to lead off the home half of the first. She scored the game’s first run on Little’s RBI single, giving UF an early lead for the second time on the day.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the second. Rogers (26-8) issued a two-out walk in the third before stranding the runner. Little drew a two-out walk in the home half and then stole second, but she was stranded. The game was delayed by lightning after three innings.
When play resumed following a three-hour, 17-minute stoppage, Washington had runners at the corners with one out in the fourth. Rogers worked out of the jam with a flyout and a strikeout.
The Gators extended their lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the fourth. Schwarz drew a one-out walk and Kathlyn Medina hit a two-out single through the left side to bring up Stewart, who launched a three-run home run to right field. Lightning halted the game again for two hours and 35 minutes. When the inning resumed, Tofft grounded out to first to end the frame.
Washington drew a one-out walk off Rogers in the top of the fifth, but Rogers stranded the runner. Haeger and Little walked in the bottom of the inning, and Justine McLean drove in pinch-runner Jessica Damico before Merritt sent the Gators to Oklahoma City with a three-run home run to left field.