OKLAHOMA CITY -- One swing of the bat gave Florida's Gators the confidence it could get to All-American senior Jackie Traina on Monday night during the 2014 Women's College World Series opening game of the best-of-three championship series.
Sophomore catcher Aubree Munro has not exactly been a power hitter so far during her brief collegiate career. As a freshman, she did not hit a home run; she had just six RBI in 55 at-bats. In 43 starts behind the plate as a sophomore this spring, Munro hit two homers in 115 at-bats.
But if you watched her launch a Traina pitch deep into the left field stands Monday night, you would have thought hitting home runs were a regular occurrence for the Californian.
"It's huge, especially against a good team like Alabama," said Munro, a .235-career hitter who had two hits in Florida's 5-0 win against Alabama in front of 7,608 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. "We've been playing great this tournament, so being able to get on the board first takes some of the pressure off and makes things a little easier.
"It was pretty exciting. This year is just been important for me as far as making things simple. I don't go in there trying to hit a home run, I've been just been trying to make good contact and put the ball through the infield. I just got a pitch today and was able to drive it out."
The early blast gave UF hitters confidence against one of college softball's premier pitchers. Lauren Haeger's RBI-double in the top of the seventh sent Traina to the dugout after allowing five runs and eight hits. Traina, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts, is not the only pitcher on the receiving end of Gator bats this week; UF has outscored four opponents 26-3, and collected a tournament-high 33 hits. UF is hitting .311 as a team.
"Aubree stepping up and getting us on the board, getting that first hit is the key to a lot of games," UF head coach Tim Walton said. "Most people think that it sounds easy, but getting that hit and not getting no-hit is awesome, to break up the no-hitter, the shutout and all the other things that go with it is huge."
Munro's battery mate, senior Hannah Rogers, was fantastic in her fourth start of the week. Through four innings, the right-hander was perfect. Not until Kaila Hunt's bouncer up the middle did a Tide batter reach base. Two batters later, that runner was erased on the Gators' fourth double play of the WCWS. After a lead-off single in the bottom of the seventh, Rogers initiated a 1-6-3 double play, then, after a pair of Tide singles, got another ground ball to push UF within one win of the program's first national title.
"Her stuff is just so much better [during the postseason]," Walton said of his senior pitcher. "Her pitches have a lot better break; her location is really sharp. The turning point for her has been the ability to locate the off-speed pitch because it makes her other pitches look harder and with more bite in the end.
"A lot of it has to do with the experience she has gained throughout her career."
"[Hannah] has been unbelievable," Munro said. "She has been lights out … that is all I can say … she is lights out; she's on a mission right now."
Rogers and Munro have become very acquainted with one another the last two seasons. In softball, that relationship is key.
"[Munro] brings a lot of energy and she's always pumping me up," Rogers said. "She is always saying the right things to me just to keep me motivated; if I miss a spot she lets me know. I think we just really work hard together."
The win was Florida's first in the championship series. In 2011, the Gators were swept by Arizona State. Walton acknowledged the big win on Monday night, but addressed the fact that nothing has been accomplished just yet.
"We didn't come here to eat funnel cakes," Walton said. "We came here to win, then eat funnel cakes."