For a little while on Sunday afternoon, it looked like Baylor was poised to repeat its miraculous comeback from Saturday night at the Women’s College World Series.
But Florida pitcher Hannah Rogers returned to her dominant self over the final two innings as the Gators earned their third appearance in the WCWS championship series with a 6-3 victory over the never-say-die Bears on Sunday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
A day after rallying from a seven-run deficit in the final two innings to eliminate Kentucky, 13th-seeded Baylor found itself in a 5-0 hole to the Gators in the bottom of the fifth inning.
That’s when the Bears finally cracked Rogers, who hadn’t allowed a run in 37 innings, dating back to a regular-season game on May 4 against Arkansas. Baylor scored three in the fifth, but Rogers retired the final seven batters in order to end Baylor’s season.
Despite the scary fifth inning, Rogers kept a simple focus to put the game away.
“Just to continue to do everything and not overthink anything and use my defense like I have all season,” she said. “They've been doing a great job here and all year, so continue to use them.”
Florida heads into the opening game of the best-of-three WCWS finals at 7 p.m. Monday with the sharpest pitcher and the hottest offense — a good combination as the Gators try to avoid a third runner-up finish.
The biggest difference between the Florida offense this year and when it played for the title in 2009 and 2011 is its minimized reliance on the home run. The Gators are batting .321 as a team at the WCWS — the only team over .300 — with only three home runs in three games.
It’s not a transition to small ball for coach Tim Walton’s squad, just a new approach and an added weapon that the coach emphasized after a few years of offensive struggles at the WCWS.
“The game is about getting singles and doing little things and it's not just about hitting home runs,” Walton said. “And I think that's the identity that I tried to instill in our team last year, actually the year before that, because we have come here so many times and we don't hit the long ball and we don't win the games.
“Having that in our back pocket when we need now it is very important, very vital.”
At the same time, Florida is the only team in the field not to commit an error in the WCWS, backing Rogers’ strong pitching with reliable defense.
“The little things win games here and just proud of our kids for believing in us and believing in themselves and in their abilities and not trying to do too much,” Walton said. “Here we are getting a chance and an opportunity to play for a national championship.”