Do or die. Win or go home. It’s all on the line. Break out whatever cliché you want for Wednesday night’s Women’s College World Series decisive Game 3 between Florida and Michigan at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
The series is tied 1-1 after the Wolverines handed the top-ranked and defending national champion Gators their first loss in the WCWS since 2013 -- a 1-0 shutout no less, the first time they had been held scoreless all season. It also snapped a 15-game postseason win streak for Florida, which was tied for the longest in NCAA history.
Neither team has officially announced a starting pitcher, but it’s safe to assume Game 2 starters UM’s Haylie Wagner and UF’s Lauren Haeger will face off again.
Wagner has shut down the Gators for 10.1 innings after coming on in relief of ace Megan Betsa who, despite being 31-5 on the season, struggled on Monday. Haeger, despite losing the 1-0 Game 2 heartbreaker, is the National Player of the Year with has 70 career wins to go along with 71 career homers, a feat no one other than Babe Ruth has accomplished.
"I mean, this is the last game,” said Wagner, who became just the third Michigan player to earn 100 career wins on Tuesday. “This is what we've been working for all year .. and we're just going to come out play Michigan softball, and we're going to have fun and attack and do what we do."
"It's the World Series, everybody's evenly matched,” said Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins, who in her 31st season became the just the third coach to reach 1,400 wins. “Some teams might be better at one thing, some teams might be better at another thing. But I think we're both very good teams, and we both have good offense. We both have good pitching. We both have good defense. And, honestly, the game will be what the game will be. If we can stay one-pitch focused we have a chance."
The designated home team has won the first two games of the series. The Gators will have the honor for Game 3 and hope to use it to their advantage.
“If you can come out and shut them out in the first inning, I think you can gain the momentum of the game knowing you have the last at-bat to play with,” said Florida head coach Tim Walton.
Florida is attempting to become just the third team to win consecutive national titles, joining UCLA and Arizona. The Wildcats were the last team to go back-to-back in 2006-2007.
Meanwhile, Michigan is going for it’s second crown on the 10-year anniversary of its first. The Wolverines won it all in 2005 becoming the first school east of the Mississippi to do so, and members of that team have each sent letters of encouragement to this year’s squad.
That 2005 season was also the first year of the current best-of-three championship format. Since then, no team has won the national championship without winning Game 2. Michigan will look to extend the streak while Florida hopes to make that a meaningless statistic.