Ashley Rogers released the 0-1 pitch, dropping a change-up just below the knees of UF right fielder Jaimie Hoover.
Rogers had retired 14 straight Florida hitters before the eighth inning. However, a double to Amanda Lorenz, a walk to Kendyl Lindaman then a ground out by Hannah Adams set up two runners in scoring position for the Gators.
“I think (the pitch) was exactly where I wanted it,” Rogers said. “Just kudos to her battling that pitch off.”
Hoover swung through the offering and lined the softball to the left side. The ball traveled just over the outstretched glove of a leaping Aubrey Leach at shortstop and bounced safely into left field.
Hoover got as far as second base before she was mobbed by her teammates.
“I wasn’t really looking for a change-up,” she said. “I was just looking for something that I could drive.”
The junior right fielder’s walk-off single sent Florida to the Women’s College World Series for the third-consecutive season. Her team’s triumph over Tennessee in the Gainesville Super Regional on Sunday marked the second-straight time UF advanced to Oklahoma City courtesy of a walk-off.
While the Gators’ grit and fight prevailed in the end, it was luck that launched them toward an early lead.
After a Lorenz walk, Adams launched a high pop fly to shallow center field. UT second baseman Kaitlin Parsons camped under the ball but slipped on its descent, allowing it to drop and Lorenz to slide safely into second.
Shortstop Sophia Reynoso knocked a two-out single two batters later to score the game’s opening run.
Florida pitcher Kelly Barnhill played with the lead in her favor, allowing only four hits and one walk in her 28th complete game of 2019. She threw 104 pitches, 62.1 percent of which were strikes, and struck out seven Volunteers.
Barnhill threw 383 pitches in 23.1 innings over the entire super regional, recording every single out for the Gators in the series.
“I just knew if it was going to be a chance for possibly our last game of the season that I wanted to be in control,” Barnhill said. “I wanted to go out there and give it my best stuff because I didn’t feel I had that -- I know I didn’t have that yesterday.”
Her fantastic form was matched by her team’s defense on Sunday.
Reynoso and Adams recorded a critical 6-4-3 double play to end the fifth inning just after Parsons collected her second single of the day.
Tennessee put runners on first and second in the sixth on a single by Leach and a hit-by-pitch against designated player Amanda Ayala. The Volunteers aggressively attempted a double steal to move both runners into scoring position, but catcher Jordan Roberts gunned out Leach at third with a perfect throw to third baseman Hannah Sipos.
UT tied up the score while down to its last three outs. Right fielder Haley Bearden belted the first offering of the seventh inning -- a hanging screwball -- over the right field wall.
Rogers also pitched well enough to keep her team in the game. She hurled 71.2 percent strikes in her 104 pitches and allowed six hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Entering the eighth, Hoover was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. She had difficulty locating and timing Rogers’ change-up. Her walk-off, however, erased those failed at-bats.
“No one is going to remember she was 0 for 3 before that,” Lorenz said of Hoover. “They’re going to remember that walk-off hit. That’s pretty sick.”
Follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr. Contact him at [email protected]r.org.