OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -
In a must-win situation, Alabama softball fell just short to Florida, who defeated the Crimson Tide, 6-3, on Tuesday to secure the Gators' first national title and end Alabama's season.
"I'm really pleased with my team," said Alabama Head Coach Patrick Murphy postgame. "I thought this was one of the easiest teams I've ever had to coach. I never had to discipline them. There were five Academic All-Americans at this tournament and four of them wore `Alabama' across their chest. That's a remarkable accomplishment for these young ladies."
This season marked Alabama's (53-13) ninth appearance in the Women's College World Series and their second in the best-of-three championship series. Alabama's 53 overall wins makes this the 10th season with at least 50 wins, nine of which have come in the last 10 years.
"I think this weekend was great because we had nine athletes who have never been here and got to experience the ride of a lifetime," said Murphy. "They've got experience now and they're going to have that hunger when we start back this fall. To get Leslie [Jury] and Sydney [Littlejohn] to pitch this week was awesome too."
Senior Jaclyn Traina (26-5) took the loss in the circle for Alabama, throwing 1.1 innings in her final career game. Traina ends her Alabama career with 106 wins, which ranks third in school history and seventh in SEC history.
"The best thing I'm going to take from this is the memories and relationships I've built with my teammates," said Traina. "They're my family. We didn't come out with the win, but all I can ask for is to have great memories with them and that's what I did."
Traina and fellow senior Kaila Hunt were named to the Women's College World Series All-Tournament Team. Hunt's third-inning home run pushed her career total to 58, tying her with Charlotte Morgan (2008-11) for second all-time in Alabama history. Hunt went 2-4 with two RBI Tuesday and finished the weekend with a .417 average, five hits and four runs scored.
"Out there postgame was a surreal moment," said Hunt. "We all want to end our career with a win but the biggest thing I'm going to take away from this is the relationships I've built over the past four years. It's not going to matter in 20 years whether I ended my career with a win or a loss."
Sydney Littlejohn pitched 4.2 innings in relief for the Tide, allowing just one unearned run to keep the game within reach. Haylie McCleney went 2-3 out of the leadoff spot with two runs scored while Hunt and Jadyn Spencer combined to drive in the Tide's three runs.
Florida (55-12) won its first national title with timely hitting and a great combined performance out of all three of its pitchers. Lauren Haeger started the game, but freshman Delanie Gourley (15-1) earned the win in relief while senior Hannah Rogers threw the final 2.0 innings to earn her second save of the season.
After being held hitless through four innings yesterday, Alabama didn't waste any time in game two as McCleney and Kallie Case led off the game with back-to-back singles. A long fly ball went for the first out, but both runners were able to tag up and move into scoring position. Spencer sent a single back up the middle to score McCleney from first, pushing the Tide ahead 1-0 with runners at the corners and nobody out. A strikeout and a groundout would end it but Alabama headed to the bottom-half of the inning with its first lead of the WCWS championship series.
Florida wasn't down for long, as Stephanie Tofft took the ball opposite field for a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the first, making it a 1-1 ballgame. Haeger followed that with a hard single up the middle that bounced off Traina and Bailey Castro battled through a 12-pitch at-bat to draw a walk, putting two on with two out. Danae Hays ended the threat, fielding the grounder and flipping it to Hunt covering second for the force-out.
The Gators came out firing again with one out in the bottom of the second, as three-straight singles gave them their first lead of the game, 2-1. Kirsti Merritt made it a more sizeable lead, blasting a three-run homer to left field as Florida moved ahead 5-1. That ended Traina's outing in the circle with Littlejohn entering in relief. The freshman would get the Tide out of the half-inning as Alabama now trailed by four.
Hunt cut into the deficit with two outs in the top of the third, sending a line-drive home run into the left-field stands to make it 5-2. In the top of the fourth, Traina led off the inning with a single into the right-field gap as Florida made a move to the bullpen, bringing in freshman lefty Gourley. Ruyon hit a high fly ball to left field as Briana Little dropped the ball on the warning track, allowing the two runners to move into scoring position. After a popup and a strikeout, McCleney drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Florida second baseman Kelsey Stewart bobbled a hard grounder but still managed to recover in time to throw to first for the final out of the half-inning, as Alabama stranded the bases still trailing 5-2.
Florida was able to tack on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, scoring the runner from second off a two-out fielding error to make it 6-2. The half-inning ended with a play at the plate as Alabama was down to its final three outs, trailing by four. Florida centerfielder Kirsti Merritt made an incredible diving catch for the first out of the seventh but McCleney looked to regain some of the momentum in the next at-bat, punching a one-out triple to the wall in right-center. A fly ball went to shallow left for out number two but Hunt dropped a single into shallow right to score McCleney from third, making it 6-3. A comeback was not in the cards however, as a groundout ended the rally with Florida earning its first national title with the 6-3 victory.
Fans wishing to welcome back the Crimson Tide can do so on Wednesday, June 4 when Alabama lands at the Bama Air Terminal in Tuscaloosa at approximately 11:20 a.m. CT.