OKLAHOMA CITY -- In her final trip to the Women's College World Series, Florida's Lauren Haeger didn't waste any time in announcing her presence. With two outs on the board in the first inning, the national player of year launched a moon shot home run over the bleachers at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
The homer staked the Gators to a 1-0 lead on Tennessee and showed the viewing public just how dialed in Haeger is to ending her career with another national championship.“It felt great. I wasn't going out there -- I can't ever go out there and try to hit a home run,” Haeger said. “My home runs will come with good at-bats and good swings at good pitches. I was just going up there looking for a good pitch to hit with two outs. I did a great job with battling a few off there and got a good pitch to hit and it was really exciting.”
Florida went on to defeat the Volunteers 7-2 in the opening game of the WCWS. The Gators will face another SEC foe in LSU at 7 p.m. ET Friday.
“A lot of us, this is our third time back and for me I went out there it felt a lot different than it had before. I felt so comfortable,” Haeger said. “Nobody felt nervous and you could definitely tell how we played. And I think us being a No. 1 seed, we just have to keep playing, doing what we're doing to win ball games.”
Haeger's impact on the game was exactly as it has been throughout the Gators season. She picked up her 29th win of the season by holding the Vols one hit, two earned runs and striking out four. Haeger then turned around and collected two hits, which was more than the entire Tennessee squad combined.
When Florida coach Tim Walton heard that stat, he said he got shivers.
“I didn't even look at that part of the box score. I didn't even recognize that,” Walton said. “I totally forgot, I think she had two hit by pitches and the hit, and that's impressive. I think as you talk about getting over the hump to get back to the College World Series as a one seed, I think that was a pressure relief for our team just to be able to step up and do what I guess you're supposed to do. But to be the national player of the year and to jump back on this stage when everybody is ready to say, well, she's the national player of the year, blah, blah, blah, and she stepped up and hit a home run her first at-bat, pitches a great game, gives up one hit. I think she answered that call as well.”
Walton has been up close for all of Haeger's highlight reel moments since she arrived in Gainesville as a freshman in 12. So it would seem impossible he could still be surprised by Haeger's exploits. But Haeger, a Peoria, Arizona, native, keeps finding a way to do it.
“Honestly, when someone asked me that question about her being the national player of the year, when I recruited her I would have told you she's a first-round draft pick,” Walton said. “A program changer. But my expectations of her to hit and pitch on this stage is exactly what she's delivering here in her senior year.”
Along with her 29 win, Haeger is batting .329, is tied for the team lead with 17 home runs and tops the Gators with 65 RBI.
Haeger's teammate Kayli Kvistad is in the midst of her freshman year with Florida and has put up solid number. But she marvels at the type of career Haeger has put together.
“Lauren Haeger is awesome,” Kvistad said. “She's definitely one of my role models and I look up to her hitting-wise, but to be able to pitch and hit at the same time, she's national player of the year it's kind of exciting to play with such a great teammate.”