OKLAHOMA CITY -- Florida, and Bailey Castro, is on fire.
The Gators continued their postseason offensive extravaganza, hammering the top-seeded Oregon Ducks on Friday night on the second day of the 2014 Women's College World Series.In two games inside Hall of Fame Stadium, the Gators have outscored two opponents 15-0 and collected 17 hits. Since the postseason began, head coach Tim Walton's group has outscored the competition 64-4.
"I did a radio show [Friday] morning and talked about the level of confidence I have in each one of these players and that they are all doing their part," Walton said. "They've made that challenge in the postseason to set a lofty goal and each one of our players are willing to do their part. You don't just get to the postseason and get by; you have to figure out a way to get better."
Castro, a junior from Pembroke Pines, Florida, did not exactly light it up in regional play, collecting just one hit in nine at-bats. Since arriving in Oklahoma City, however, she has found her stroke, sparking UF's three-run first inning with a two-run double in the rout of Baylor on Thursday. On Friday night, Castro absolutely crushed a Cheridan Hawkins pitch that landed somewhere near the team buses far behind the left centerfield wall. An inning later, the Gator right fielder slapped another offering into left field for an RBI single.
Through two games, a player that hit .265 during the regular season -- .195 in SEC play -- is 4-for-6 with four RBI.
Castro is certainly not alone -- Kristi Merritt also has four hits, including a homer against Baylor. Rookie Chelsea Herndon ended the Baylor game with a grand slam.
"Up and down the lineup, we have a number of players swinging the bat well," Walton said.
Of the massive home run, Castro added, "I got a good pitch to hit and I just took a hack, that's kind of my thing, is to take big hacks. It felt really nice coming off the bat; I was smiling all the way around [the bases]."
"It was the easiest swing I've seen her take to hit the ball that far," Walton said. "She usually swings out of her shoes, but that was the easiest I've seen her take."
In 50 at-bats, the Gators have 17 hits, good for a .340 team batting average. With that kind of success and run support, senior Hannah Rogers has been in cruise control. Including Friday, the three-time All-American has tossed four shutouts. Baylor's Bears managed one hit; Oregon could not solve Rogers either, totaling just three hits.
UF has also been stellar in the field.
"I am feeling very confident right now," said Rogers, who is 28-8. "I'm locating pitches; my body feels great right now; the defense we have behind us and the way the offense is hitting right now, everything feels great."
It is not as if head coach Mike White's Ducks are lacking in offense. UO ripped 2014 USA Softball player of the year Lacey Waldrop to the tune of 10 hits on Thursday in a 3-0 win; the Ducks had outscored postseason opponents 43-5 entering Friday.
Left-hander Cheridan Hawkins entered Friday with a 1.51 earned run average and a 34-4 mark; she gave just one hit to the Seminoles. The All-American was pulled in the fourth inning after allowing four runs and five hits to the Gators.
"[Florida] played well defensively, the pitched well, they took the most of their opportunities at bat," White said. "I'm certainly happy that [Arizona State's] Dallas Escobedo and Hannah Rogers are graduating … they've certainly been a pain in my butt the last couple of years.
"What can you say about Hannah Rogers; she stepped up on the big stage and took advantage of a good strike zone for her and controlled us. They took advantage of a couple of our mistakes and they played well defensively, making the plays when we did put the ball in play."
The Gators have been on the big stage before. A year ago, UF was hammered 9-2 in its opener against SEC rival Tennessee. After a marathon victory against Nebraska, Walton's group was eliminated by Texas.
In 2011, Rogers was a freshman who was 36-8 with 10 shutouts. She led the Gators to the best of three championship series where Arizona State outscored UF 21-6 to win the national title.
Might Rogers and Florida get another shot? If they keep playing like they have the last two days, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.