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Florida coach Tim Walton gets an ice bath after Gators' win Sunday night against Washington.

Monday May 26, 2014Super Marathon: Gators Outlast Huskies For Trip to OKC

Florida coach Tim Walton gets an ice bath after Gators' win Sunday night against Washington.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

KelseyGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kelsey Stewart didn’t see the lightning in the distance Sunday afternoon. A good many inside Pressly Stadium did.

“But I heard the oohs and ahhs,” she said.

The gasps she heard a few moments later were considerably more pronounced. More fun, too. Same goes for the ones that echoed across the Florida campus nearly seven hours later -- at 11:04 p.m. -- when Kirsti Merritt jacked a three-run, walk-off homer that defeated Washington 8-0 and sent the sixth-ranked Gators to the Women’s College World Series.

What a day.

And night.

“What was it? Seven or eight hours on the field?” Merritt asked.

Actually, it was considerably less time on the field. Most of it was spent off it, with a ton in the locker room waiting out severe weather stoppages. All told, Sunday’s softball marathon went for just over 11 hours and was set up by a comeback victory for the Huskies in the first game of the day, a 4-3 win that evened the best-of-three series at one game apiece. The third and decisive game began at 3:30 and featured -- over the next 7 1/2 hours -- two lengthy weather delays, plus a curious attempt at a protest by the Washington coach.

Oh yes, and two extremely dramatic homers separated by 3 hours and 10 minutes ... but just one inning.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” Florida coach Tim Walton said.

He was, of course, referencing the bizarre nature of the game, not the end result of the Super Regional. The Gators (50-12) advanced to the WCWS for the sixth time in the last seven years. Even Walton said after the game -- during a postgame news conference that pushed the midnight hour -- that trips to Oklahoma City had now become the norm for his program.

And he’s right.

To punch their ticket this time, though, the Gators won a 9-0 mercy-rule laugher in Game 1 Saturday, but failed to cash in on a couple of scoring opportunities -- twice UF had runners on second and third and failed to score -- in Sunday’s matinee.

The 4-3 loss, keyed by a two-run go-ahead homer from UW's Kaitlin Inglesby in the fifth, dampened a pretty good day from junior Lauren Haeger, who pitched six innings, struck out seven and hit a two-run homer to give the Gators a short-lived lead in their half of the fifth.

Washington rallied, forcing a winner-take-OKC third game.

RogersWalton went to his ace, senior Hannah Rogers, who the day before handcuffed the hot-hitting Huskies (37-15) to just four hits. Rogers had her best stuff from the get-go again Sunday, but then came a 3-hour, 17-minute delay. Once play resumed, the second day delay came just 25 minutes later and lasted 2 hours, 35 minutes.

"It becomes a mental game then," Rogers said of the stop-start nature of the day.

Making that second delay easier was Stewart's bomb over the right-field fence, meaning that Rogers and the Gators sought cover with a cushy, momentum-stealing 4-0 advantage.

“Our hype number was super high after that,” said Stewart, adding the next few hours were spent staying loose, playing charades, bonding and getting their “booty pop on” in the locker room. “It was fun.”

The Huskies, meanwhile, waited out the storm with the image of Stewart’s big fly still planted in their heads.

“It’s disappointing to give that up to their best player with two outs,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said.

Her team stewed on it until play resumed at 10:30 p.m.

At 10:33, Tarr stopped the game for what turned out to be another 12 minutes in an apparent effort to protest a UF videographer doing “live tag” taping -- the process of gathering inventory of players’ swings and such for future breakdowns -- from the centerfield camera box.

The on-site NCAA official was called to the field, phone calls were made and Tarr was informed her complaint was not protestable.

Play ball!

UW went quietly in its fifth -- with Rogers on her way to limiting the nation’s 10th-ranked offensive team and its .328 average to just a single hit -- then UF scratched out a quick run after a pair of walks started the inning and freshman Justine McLean slapped a single up the middle for an RBI and 5-0 lead.

MerrittThen Merritt, all of 5-foot-4 of her, stepped in.

The ball she parked was positively crushed.

So was Merritt when she touched home plate.

“Half of us didn’t even know the game was over,” catcher Aubree Munro said after the 3-run blast pushed UF’s lead to the 8-run, five-inning mercy rule. “Next thing I knew, we were in a dog pile.”

“Oh, I knew it was over,” junior shortstop Katie Medina said. “OKC, here we come.”

Once again.

“I had a gut feeling this was going to go to a three-game series, but credit our players. They could have hung their heads after losing a tough [first] game and playing so well,” Walton said. “At the end of the day, we left no doubt we deserve to move on to the College World Series.”

The end of a very, very long day, that is.

Exactly no one wearing orange and blue complained about the inconvenience.


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