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Sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz clears bases with a 3-run double in fifth inning against Baylor.

Sunday June 1, 2014Gators Do Little Things, Get to Play for the Big Thing

Sophomore first baseman Taylor Schwarz clears bases with a 3-run double in fifth inning against Baylor.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The game was tight and after the opposing pitcher hit a couple Florida batters in succession, sophomore Taylor Schwarz stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and the pressure of the Women’s College World Series bearing down on her in front of sold-out crowd at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

What in the world was going through her mind?

“Honestly,” Schwarz said. “I was still looking for my batting glove.”

Bears starter Whitney Canion hit Bailey Castro on her third pitch to UF’s No. 5 hitter, then plucked No. 6 hitter Briana Little with the first. Those plays happened so quickly, Schwarz didn’t have much time to think about the circumstances or ramifications of stepping up in the fifth inning with a chance to break the WCWS semifinal-round game wide open.

“I didn’t have time to think of anything really,” said Schwarz, who found her glove on the ground in the dugout. “When I got in the batter's box I was just thinking, honestly, "Get my pitch,' and she threw a pitch right there and I jumped on it.” 

Schwarz pounded a 1-0 offering into the right center-field alley to clear the bases and provide the big blow in No. 6 UF’s 6-3 defeat of 17th-ranked Baylor, a victory that gave Coach Tim Walton’s bunch a clean sweep of the winner’s bracket and moved them into this week’s WCWS championship round.

Florida (53-12) will face Southeastern Conference rival Alabama (53-11) in a best-of-three series for the NCAA crown, beginning Monday night at 8 p.m. ET. It’ll mark he Gators’ third trip to the title series, where the team was swept by Washington in 2009 and again by Arizona State in 2011.

Neither that history nor Alabama winning two of three in their regular-season series in Gainesville back in March will factor into what the 2014 Gators are trying to do.

“The little things win games here at the College World Series and I’m just proud of our kids for believing in us and believing in themselves and in their abilities -- and not trying to do too much,” said Walton, who continues to elevate the program to remarkable heights. “Here we are getting an opportunity for a national championship.”

Schwarz may have had the big hit, but Walton was right about the little things. The Gators did the fundamentally sound stuff necessary to put themselves in position to win, whether it was spectacular defense, intelligent baserunning or timely hitting.

Hannah RogersAnd, of course, there was Hannah Rogers (photo, center).

Florida’s pitching ace was not the robotic machine of her first two days here, but Rogers chased those back-to-back shutouts by hurling a five-hitter at the Bears (49-16) and keeping any damage done -- three runs on three hits in the fifth -- to a minimum.

Those three runs are the only scores Rogers has given up in six NCAA Tournament games and she answered that Baylor rally by retiring the last seven Bears batters in order.

A little hiccup on her hot streak -- 33 1/3 innings without allowing a run -- wasn’t going to shake her.

“I just continued to do everything [the same]; not over-think anything and using my defense like I have all season,” Rogers said. “I mean, they’ve been doing a great job here.”

How great? Errorless great.

“They’re hitting on all cylinders,” Baylor coach Glen Moore said. “I could go on and on about the way they're playing with a lot of confidence and made us work really hard for anything we were able to get off them today.”

What they got wasn’t much and it all came in the fifth inning, temporarily giving the Bears hopes of a second miracle rally in as many days. Saturday night, Baylor was down 7-0 in the sixth against Kentucky and stormed back to win 8-7 in extra innings.

But not against Rogers.

Not against the eight gloves surrounding her.

“There’s an expectation,” UF junior shortstop Katie Medina said of a defense that is fielding at 1.000 for the Series. “I strive to be perfect on the field for Hannah or whoever is pitching and I think I can speak for all of us when I say we try to make every play we can.”

Like when Medina took a hard grounder in the hole, stepped on second and zipped a throw to first for an inning-ending double-play in the second. Or when third baseman Stephanie Tofft got horizonal in foul territory to stab a wicked line drive off a Baylor bat in the third.

At the plate, on a day when leadoff and leading hitter Kelsey Stewart and power-hitting Lauren Haeger combined to go hitless in eight at-bats, Tofft got the Gators on the board in the third with an RBI double that scored Kirsti Merritt from first. In the fourth, Aubree Munro laid down a picture-perfect suicide squeeze to score Little from third for a 2-0 lead. Then Schwarz opened the gates with a base-clearing double in the fifth for a 5-0 lead.

For Walton, these four days in the Sooner State have been awfully satisfying because he’s watched his players win big (11-0 vs. Baylor, thanks to two homers Thursday), win efficiently (4-0 vs. Oregon, behind Rogers Friday) and now grinding their way into the title series with this rematch defeat of the Bears.

“The game is about getting singles and doing the little things, and it’s not just about hitting home runs,” Walton said after improving to 15-11 all-time in his six WCWS trips. “We’ve come here so many times and we don't hit the long ball and don't win the games; we have double-digit strikeouts and we can't manufacture runs. So I think having [small ball] in your back pocket is vital. At the end of the day, you still have to have the right personnel in the right spots to be able to execute some things.”

The Gators have that, and with it another chance at a national championship.

Schwarz, meanwhile, figures to have her batting glove ready Monday night.

Then again, maybe not.

 

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