Tuesday June 3, 2014 WCWS Game 1 Leftovers: Haeger's bounceback, Bama's bounceback in 2012 .. and more Hannah, of course
Updated: 4:29pm, June 3
Updated: 4:29pm, June 3
OKLAHOMA CITY -- She came to the Women’s College World Series leading the Florida Gators in home runs and RBI, while hitting a robust .315 with a team-best 42 walks.
Yet going into Monday night’s Game 1 national-championship series against Alabama, UF designated player Lauren Haeger had just one hit in 10 trips to the plate and had left five runners on base in WCWS play.
Given the power numbers Haeger has put up for the Gators since arriving from Peoria, Ariz., it would have been easy to chalk up her performance as an anomaly, except that Haeger went 1-for-12 at the WCWS last year, struck out four times and left nine runners on base, as UF bowed out in three games.
So when Haeger whiffed and grounded her first two times up Monday, her combined numbers in OKC were 2-for-24.
And that’s a slump.
Which is why everyone in orange and blue was delighted to see Haeger fall in line with the rest of her hot-hitting teammates by knocking a single in the fifth and RBI double (pictured above) in the seventh -- both off Alabama starter Jaclyn Traina -- and after UF's 5-0 win making her first appearance at the post-game podium.
“The past couple games have been a struggle for me. I don’t know why, but it happens to all hitters and for me it just happens to happen at the World Series,” Haeger said after the defeat of the Crimson Tide moved the Gators within one victory of the program’s first NCAA softball championship. “I’m just just trying to go up there and keep it simple. My team believes in me.”
That’s a fact.
But this is a team, as Coach Tim Walton explained, that lean on one hitter to the point she feels pressure to produce. He wants hitters to get on base and thus commence the chess game Walton plays to manufacture runs.
“I didn’t look at it as a struggle,” said Walton, who loved how Haeger went about her business, came to hitting practice Monday morning and grinded away. “The only way you get better is if you work yourself out of it. I think that’s the key for all our hitters. We’re going to work. We didn’t come out here to hang out and eat funnel cake. We came here to win -- and then eat funnel cakes.”
BAMA’S BEEN HERE BEFORE
Since the WCWS went to the best-of-three championship format in 2005, three teams have lost the first game and gone on to claim the national title: Michigan over UCLA in ’05; Arizona over Tennessee in ’07; Alabama over Oklahoma in ’12.
Ten players on the current Tide roster were part of that rally two years ago, including Traina.
“We came back relentless and we were winning the little things,” said Traina, who was the MVP of that WCWS. “We were very aggressive, had a plan and bought into it.”
Alabama lost that first game 4-1, then won the next two 8-5 and 5-4.
“So we’re not too worried,” Tide coach Patrick Murphy said (his team pictured above, courtesy the Associated Press). “Obviously, we would like to win the first one, but since we lost the first one last time and won it all, it’s not a big deal to us.”
Murphy added that not playing Florida since back in March probably meant his lineup needed a game to feel out UF starter Hannah Rogers, who limited the Tide to just four hits on the way to a sixth shutout in seven NCAA Tournament appearances this season.
Considering Alabama only got through its order 2 1/2 times against Rogers -- who threw just 80 pitches and faced just four batters over the minimum of 21, thanks to a pair of double-plays -- it remains to be seen if the Tide have seen Rogers enough.
They did work Rogers for three hits in the seventh.
“You saw that we did make adjustments eventually. It did take us seven innings, but we did get to her and that’s big for us,” senior second baseman Kaila Hunt said. “That means we learned from our previous at-bats, which is what we need to do to have success [Tuesday night].”
SHE’S A WEB-GEMMER TOO
Obviously, Rogers has been sensational in the circle, but the 5-foot-10 senior helped her cause a couple times with plays that justify the UF coaching staff’s belief that Rogers is the best defensive pitcher in the country.
Rogers actually had five assists in the game, including when she started a 1-6-3 double play in the seventh. But it was the play off the bat of Marisa Runyon that was one of the defensive highlights of the night.
Runyon hit a semi-slow grounder to Rogers' left, toward first base. Rogers cut it off before second baseman Kelsey Stewart could charge it, gloving the ball (pictured above) and shoveling it from her glove to first baseman Taylor Schwarz.
The play beat Runyon, who dove head-first into first.
Yes, the Tide was that desperate just to get on base against Rogers.
AROUND THE HORN: The Gators are now 9-1 in the NCAA Tournament and have outscored their opponents by a combined 75-7, with eight of the nine wins coming by shutout. ... The outcome marked just the third shutout of Alabama this season. The Tide was held scoreless twice by Arizona (3-0 on Feb. 15 and 8-0 on Feb. 16) during the Easton Bama Bash in Tuscaloosa. ... Rogers has held NCAA opponents scoreless in 48 of her 49 innings, with Baylor’s 3-run fifth in Sunday’s semifinals the only inning a team has produced a run. Her ERA in the overall tournament stands at 0.50 to go with 28 strikeouts. ... UF is hitting a collective .311 in the WCWS, with sophomore center fielder Kirsti Merritt going 5-for-10 with six runs scored and junior outfielder Briana Little 4-for-11 with four runs. Third baseman Stephanie Tofft is 4-for-11 with five RBI.