The Gators closed the books to one of the most successful seasons in program history Tuesday, falling to Arizona State, 7-2, in the second game of the Women’s College World Series best-of-three Championship Series with the No. 1 seed Arizona State Sun Devils at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Florida (56-13) became the first Southeastern Conference school to make four straight WCWS trips, and the Gators represented their conference and university well, boasting four WCWS All-Tournament Team members, highlighted by junior Michelle Moultrie (Jacksonville, Fla.), who picked up co-Most Outstanding Player honors with ASU freshman hurler Dallas Escobedo. Arizona State (60-6) rallied for its second title in four years with 14-4 and 7-2 wins over UF, marking the Pac 10’s sixth straight national crown, behind the arm of Escobedo, who became the first freshman to win a national championship since 1990.
Along with Moultrie, senior Kelsey Bruder (Corona, Calif.), sophomore Brittany Schutte (Fountain Valley, Calif.) and freshman Cheyenne Coyle (West Hills, Calif.) were named to the 2011 WCWS All-Tournament Team. The Gators won four games at the 2011 WCWS, more than each of their three previous appearances, led by Moultrie with a tournament-high 13 hits and four home runs. Bruder scored a tournament-record 10 runs, while Moultrie was close behind with nine. Coyle and Schutte each knocked in a tournament-high eight RBI as the squad combined for 14 homers through the past week in Oklahoma City.
Florida plated one run in the first inning Tuesday on a Schutte sacrifice fly and one in the seventh on a Tiffany DeFelice (Coral Springs, Fla.) RBI single, while the Sun Devils used nine hits, scattering runs in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings to top the Gators.
While Florida fell short of becoming the first SEC program to win a national title, the program turned in a stellar and record-breaking year with a number of highlights and accomplishments. UF paced the nation in Academic All-Americans, with four, and boasts a nation-leading six All-Americans, the most possible for a single institution. Florida jumped out of the gates in 2011 with a 24-0 start, the best in school history, and worked their way to a fourth straight SEC Eastern Division title, the fifth in Gator history.
Florida’s five seniors, Bruder, DeFelice, Megan Bush (Anaheim Hills, Calif.), Stephanie Brombacher (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) and Aja Paculba (Wildomar, Calif.) leave the program as the most successful class in Florida history, boasting a 238-33 (.878) overall record and a 94-13 (.878) record in SEC play.
This year’s squad downed over 30 University of Florida single-season, game and career records en route to a fourth WCWS appearance, and head coach Tim Walton picked up his 400th career win and 300th victory at the helm of the Gator program. Walton is 330-80 (.804) at UF and boasts a 454-144 (. 759) career record as a head coach. Walton is 36-17 (.679) in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach, while the Florida program finishes the season 21-16 (.567) in NCAA Regional play, 9-2 (.818) in NCAA Super Regional play and 11-9 (.550) in the WCWS for a NCAA Tournament record of 41-27 (.602).
The Gators knocked 124 home runs on the 2011 season, extending their own 2010 SEC and UF single-season record and were paced by Moultrie this season, who batted .433 and turned in a team-best .519 on-base percentage. Schutte knocked a single-season record 22 home runs, pacing the five Gators that turned in double-digit homers on the season.
Tuesday’s crowd of 6,314 that watched the second game of the series finale at Hall of Fame Stadium marked a Session 9 record and ups the 2011 total WCWS attendance to 67,631, a 7,515 average. Entering this year’s event, the record for per-session attendance for an entire WCWS was 6,951, set in 2010. Six of this year’s nine sessions have produced WCWS attendance records and four of the top-10 all-time WCWS attendance marks were set this year.
Brombacher earned the nod in the circle for the Gators, working the first 3.0 and giving up five runs on six hits, while walking and fanning two before freshman Hannah Rogers (Lake Wales, Fla.) came on in relief to close out the final 4.0 for the Orange and Blue. Rogers gave up two runs on three hits, while walking three and fanning one. Brombacher was charged with the loss, just her third of the season after surrendering the first five runs of the game.
Schutte drove in the first run of the evening on a sacrifice fly with runners on the corners. Moultrie knocked a leadoff double through the right side and DeFelice moved her to third on a sacrifice bunt. Bruder drew a one-out walk, bringing up Schutte, who hit the warning track for the third time this WCWS, as the Gators were able to capitalize this time when Moultrie cleared home.
ASU got going in the second with back-to-back singles, placing runners on the corners with no outs. Next up, Sam Parlich reached on a fielder’s choice after Brombacher attempted the out at third, loading the bags for the Sun Devils. ASU knotted the score at one all after Brombacher walked Alix Johnson and the Sun Devils took a 3-1 lead after another fielder’s choice loaded the bases again, turning over the lineup and enabling leadoff hitter Katelyn Boyd to capitalize with a two RBI single through the right side that gave ASU the 3-1 lead. Brombacher rallied with a strikeout and a fly out to get out of the inning.
After holding Florida hitless and scoreless in the bottom of the second, with the exception of a Paculba walk, Arizona State returned with a two-run, three-hit inning for ASU to kick off the third, giving ASU two more runs to take a 5-1 lead to the bottom of the third frame. With two runners in scoring position, Johnson dropped a two-run blooper to right field, just over Paculba’s head at second to plate two runners.
DeFelice sent a one-out base hit to left field for Florida in the bottom of the third, but the Gators couldn’t manufacture anything as a fielder’s choice for Bruder eliminated DeFelice at second base for the second out, while a Schutte fly out ended the inning.
The Gators went with Rogers to kick off the fourth inning and she delivered, retiring the first two batters, giving up just one hit and forcing a line out to hold ASU scoreless. In the bottom half of the inning, the Gators went three up, three down, but Bush and Coyle both sent shots to the warning track before Paculba sent a hard-hit ball to left field.
With two outs and two runners in scoring position in the top of the fifth, Boyd sent a RBI single to right field to plate ASU’s sixth run of the game as the Sun Devils took a 6-1 when Parlich crossed home after reaching on a fielder’s choice. Johnson, who walked, tried to follow in suit, but Schutte gunned a pass to DeFelice at home for the third out of the inning.
Following a scoreless fifth for Florida, cleanup hitter Annie Lockwood smacked a two-out solo shot to left field to give ASU an insurance run, extending the lead to 6-1. Krista Donnenwirth followed with a walk, but Rogers caught Mandy Urfer looking to retire the side.
The Orange and Blue got a little something going in the bottom of the sixth after Schutte drew a one-out walk and Coyle walked after a Bush fly out to place runners on second and third, but a Paculba line out ended any potential scoring opportunities.
Rogers forced a three up, three down situation to give Florida one last shot in the bottom of the final inning of 2011. Sophomore Ensley Gammel (Bakersfield, Calif.) led off with a single, while freshman Kasey Fagan (Dunnellon, Fla.) grounded out to advance Gammel to second and turn the lineup over for Moultrie. Moultrie popped out, but DeFelice made the most of her final career at-bat, sending a RBI single down the left-field line to drive in Gammel, but Bruder followed with a strikeout that resulted in the final, 7-2.
For a wrap up of Florida’s outstanding 2011 season in the coming days and for all the latest news and information on Florida softball, visit www.GatorZone.com/softball and follow the Gators on Twitter @GatorZoneSBall.