OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- A 3-0 Texas Longhorns win Sunday in Florida’s second 2013 WCWS elimination game was the conclusion to a stellar season for the Gator softball squad, which wraps up the 2013 campaign at 58-9 overall, including a trip to UF’s fifth WCWS in the last six years. Florida captured the 2013 SEC regular season and tournament titles en route to the fifth 50-win season in Gator softball history.
Two First Team All-Americans in sophomore Lauren Haeger (Peoria, Ariz.) and junior Hannah Rogers (Peoria, Ariz.) helped lead a young Florida squad this season that boasted five starting newcomers, while Florida head coach Tim Walton picked up SEC Coach of the Year honors for the fourth time in his eight-year tenure at the helm of the Gator softball program, highlighting this year’s five All-SEC honorees for the Orange and Blue.
For two Gator seniors in Ensley Gammel (Bakersfield, Calif.) and Kelsey Horton (Valrico, Fla.), Sunday’s game was the end of their softball road as the duo capped off four years at UF with their third trip to the WCWS and a SEC Championship run that gave Gammel and Horton their first league title while at Florida. Gammel and Horton accumulated a 211-45 (.824) record at UF, including 80-24 (.769) mark in SEC play.
Florida exceeded expectations in 2013 and downed a number of individual and single-season records throughout the span of the year, including single-season walks, triples, hit-by-pitch, highest stolen-base percentage, highest fielding percentage and fewest errors. Florida is now 12-11 (.521) all-time in the WCWS and the Orange and Blue own a 49-31 (.611) all-time record in the NCAA Tournament, including a 44-21 (.677) record under Walton.
After battling and emerging on top in one of the most epic games in WCWS history Saturday against Nebraska – a 15-inning, 9-8 thriller that served as the longest game in Florida history – the Gators took to the field Sunday for a second elimination game and Texas took advantage, using a three-run homer from Kim Bruins as the difference.
In Sunday’s season finale, Florida freshman Taylore Fuller (Trenton, Fla.) sent a single down the left-field line for UF’s lone hit of the game in the home half of the fourth and the Gators used five walks and to hit-by-pitches for multiple base-runners in the contest.
UF ran into Texas starting ace Blaire Luna (7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 14 K), who made it difficult for the Gators to push a run across. Rogers, a three-time All-American, was opposite Luna in the circle for the Orange and Blue, working a complete game herself (7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K) and finishing the season 33-7 for the Gators, her second 30-win season at Florida (2011, 2013).
Haeger drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the second inning for Florida’s first base runner and was bunted to second by Horton before Luna fanned UF’s six and seven hitters to prevent the Gators from capitalizing.
A Kim Bruins three-run homer to left in the top of the third was the difference in the game after teammates Taylor Hoagland and Taylor Thom both drew walks for the Longhorns to set it up.
A pair of Luna hit-by-pitches in the bottom of the third had runners on first and second for the Gators with two outs before a junior Stephanie Tofft (Lincoln, Calif.) walk loaded the bases for the Orange and Blue. Haeger counted as Luna’s sixth strikeout of the afternoon as UF left three on in the inning.
UF strung together a mini rally in the bottom of the fourth when Fuller sent a one-out single down the left-field line before sophomore Briana Little (Middleburg, Fla.) drew a two-out walk for runners on first and second, but pinch hitter Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) was Luna’s ninth K to strand two Gators.
Florida had base runners on in every inning except the first and the seventh Sunday, as Luna sat the Gators down in order in the bottom of the seventh to give the Longhorns a date with Tennessee in a Sunday night WCWS elimination game. For the second straight year, the Gators were shut out in their season finale.
FLORIDA PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Florida head coach Tim Walton and student‑athletes Lauren Haeger, Kelsey Horton, and Hannah Rogers. We'll start with Coach and go to the floor with questions.
COACH WALTON: Congratulations, Texas. Blaire Luna threw another great game and really pitched well. They got enough hits to get it done, but give them a lot of credit. I thought they came in pretty well with a good game plan. Thought the pitch calling was really, really solid and did a good job.
I also want to thank the NCAA, ASA, and University of Oklahoma for an outstanding tournament again for us. We love coming back here. Great venue, great people who work hard for us, and we're very thankful.
Also thankful to our administration for everything they do for us and really give us the opportunity to put us in this position and take care of our athletes at Florida. Really proud of our players. Proud of Kelsey Horton, and Ensley Gammel for a great four-year career for us. Three trips to the College World Series for this senior class. We win and lose with class and just proud to Coach this team.
Q. Lauren and Kelsey, can you talk about what it seemed like she was doing? It seemed she got the inside of the plate all day and got that call. Can you talk about how big a factor that was?
LAUREN HAEGER: Yeah, she had a really good back door curveball that was getting the corner. The umpire was calling it, so the whole game it was very consistent, so we needed to make adjustments to it. She was mixing her pitches really well. She is a great pitcher and she did what she needed to do today.
KELSEY HORTON: I agree with Lauren. I think she did a great job mixing her pitches and throwing strikes when she needed to throw strikes and getting us to chase when she needed to get ahead. I just think Blaire Luna did a good job, and we didn't make enough adjustments today.
Q. Hannah and Lauren, can you speak to if fatigue may have been a factor? Twelve hours ago you were playing another game, and now you're rolling back out here again?
HANNAH ROGERS: I don't really think so. I think we came out with a lot of energy, more than I expected. Everyone came out ready to fight. I mean, we just were struggling a little bit at the plate; but they did a great job today, Texas did.
LAUREN HAEGER: Yeah, I don't think so. I felt a good energy. I know I wasn't tired. We were all just ready to go. We all got treatment last night. Our trainers did really well with that in helping us recover. We went right to bed and got good rest. I think we did have a good energy. Texas just made more adjustments than we did.
Q. Tim, you guys were 0‑99 for the series. How much of that was the pitching and how much was what they're talking about, not making adjustments?
COACH WALTON: I'm just going to give the credit to the pitchers.
LAUREN HAEGER: The pitchers were really, really, really good this weekend. You come here and the pitcher, it's their ace every single time you face them. They've been pitching all year strong, and I think just struggling at the plate a little bit for everyone and not making as many adjustments as we needed to. But, again, definitely credit to the pitchers. They really did a good job.
KELSEY HORTON: You're facing All‑Americans almost every game, so, yeah, the pitchers are doing a great job here.
Q. Kelsey, if you could address playing your final game and what the last four years have meant to you?
KELSEY HORTON: Yeah, I'm a little emotional, because it's my last softball game. But I had a great career here. I'm so excited I could make it to the College World Series three times, and I wouldn't want to do it with a better group of girls. So I'm really happy.
Q. Could you talk about ‑‑ obviously, you return almost everybody for next year, and just what this season has meant to win as many games, to win the SEC, to win the SEC Tournament to get here and build on it, and the experience the younger players got coming here?
COACH WALTON: We got better. We had a long -- in fact grueling is a good word -- a grueling fall. Worked our athletes really hard and got a lot better to win 58 games to be SEC champions and regional champions and tournament champions, and super regional champions to get to this point. Just a great group of players that worked hard. I'm really proud of this team. I'm not excited about next year. I'm not looking forward to next year. This is a great team. I'm going to take a long time to really admire a lot of the individual and team efforts that this team accomplished. If you had asked me at the beginning of the season, could this team do this? My answer would have been no very early and easy. The team just got better, got better, and better, and worked hard, got stronger. To hit as many home runs as we hit -- to be honest with you, I had this team pegged for 40 or 50 home runs, stole a lot of bases, played good defense, had good pitching.
At the end of the day a lot of the players got better. Kelsey Stewart got better. Kirsti got better. Taylor Schwartz, Lauren got better. A lot of those kids just got better and better and better. I'm really proud to see development. Our program has been known for going to the College World Series and winning a lot of ball games.
But one thing that gets overlooked is player development. I think our training staff, and our support staff and strength coaches, we develop players. We've got two first-team All‑Americans in front of you, and we develop players and get them better and we're very proud of that.
Q. Do you think the game last night is the memory that you'll take from the World Series appearance here? What they showed you in hanging in there?
COACH WALTON: It's going to be hard not to. That's one of the most memorable games I've ever been part of as a player or a coach. Just you've got to love the backs against the wall, a lot of pressure. You go from just being so high to heartbreak and to be able to bounce back. I really don't think that had anything to do with today's performance.
I think Blaire Luna had everything to do with today's performance more than anything. She was very good. She threw 60 balls. How many strikes did we swing at? And how many good pitches did we take? That's the M-O of a good pitcher.
But we worked her. She had to throw 141 pitches, and we've done that all season long. We've just got to continue to get better, and we will.