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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

OKLAHOMA CITY &ndash Three big plays and one dominant pitcher put the UF softball team one loss away from falling short of its season-long goal of a national championship.

Led by a two-hit performance by Danielle Lawrie, third-seeded Washington (50-12) handed No. 1 UF (63-4) its first loss of the postseason, an 8-0 defeat in the first game of the Women's College World Series championship series.

"Obviously that's not the way you draw it up," UF coach Tim Walton said. "Coming out in a national-championship series and getting run-ruled &ndash it should have been a run-rule."

The Gators had not given up eight or more runs since their 10-2 loss to UCLA on March 3, 2007.

Lawrie (41-8, 0.97 ERA) was dominant in the circle for Washington, leaving UF's hitters looking and swinging at pitch after pitch as she racked up 12 strikeouts.

The junior pitcher, who competed for the Canadian national team in the Beijing Olympics, had already shut down the Gators' potent offensive attack once this season in a two-hit, nine-inning shutout on Feb. 20, when Lawrie led the Huskies to a 1-0 victory.

To leave Oklahoma City with a national title, UF will have to beat Lawrie, the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year, twice in a row &ndash a feat only Stanford has accomplished this season. The Gators will have a chance to get back at Lawrie tonight at 8 in Game 2 of the championship series.

"I really think we took way too many pitches," said third baseman Corrie Brooks, who had one of UF's two hits. "We really didn't fight a whole lot. We're definitely going to come out (today) and be ready to swing."

Stacey Nelson (41-4, 0.58 ERA) shouldered the loss for UF after giving up four earned runs for the second straight game.

Washington put up four runs on Nelson on one play in the third when a bases-loaded grounder by shortstop Jenn Salling went from bad to worse for UF.

One run easily scored as the ball rolled into center fielder Kim Waleszonia's glove. Kristina Hilberth couldn't tag Ashley Charters at home in time and, in an attempt to nail the runner at second, made a rare defensive error &ndash just her third of the season.

The senior threw the ball back into center field, and it went all 220 feet back to the center-field fence, giving Kimi Pohlman and Salling plenty of time to cross the plate.

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Salling jumped up and emphatically stomped her feet on the plate, having effectively stomped out the Gators' chances against the Huskies.

"If you're not used to doing that, and that happens to you in that kind of a game, it's tough to bounce back," Washington coach Heather Tarr said. "All great teams have been there before, and they just obviously haven't had that many losses to deal with."

The Huskies scored two more runs in the fifth on a two-out double that bounced off the center-field wall by Morgan Stuart, who leads all players with 10 hits in the WCWS.

The next inning, sophomore pitcher Stephanie Brombacher replaced Nelson in the circle. Brombacher gave up a two-run homer to Charters in the top of the sixth and finished the day with two hits, two earned runs and two walks in two innings of work.

The Gators entered Monday night's matchup undefeated in WCWS play after toppling ninth-seeded Arizona, fifth-seeded Michigan and fourth-seeded Alabama. Nelson was dominant for the first two games, and a timely hit by a senior leader made the difference in the semifinals.

Gardiner's two-out, walk-off grand slam sent UF into the championship series, pushing her team past the Crimson Tide 6-5 on Sunday despite entering the final frame down by three runs.

Before hitting the game-winner, the senior first baseman was in the midst of the worst slump of her career and had gone 0 for her last 15 at-bats. But she put all that aside and dropped the first grand slam of her college career just over the left-field fence, where Alabama left fielder Whitney Larsen went head-over-heels trying to reel it in.

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