Pitcher Lauren Haeger hits HR, Florida tops Tennessee 7-2
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Pitcher Lauren Haeger outhit Tennessee all by herself.
Florida's do-it-all senior had two hits and allowed just one in a complete-game victory as defending champion Florida defeated Tennessee 7-2 Thursday in the opening game of the Women's College World Series.
Haeger, who homered in the first inning, showed why she was recently named USA Softball's collegiate player of the year.
''To be the national player of the year and jump back on this stage - she stepped up and hit a home run her first at-bat, pitches a great game, allowed just one hit - I think she answered that call,'' Florida coach Tim Walton said.
Florida lost to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference tournament in their only previous meeting this season. This time, the Gators got some unexpected help. Former Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan, now the new Oklahoma City Thunder coach, gave the team a pregame pep talk.
''His volume would just go up, and up, and up, and when he'd look at you, when he made eye contact with you, he'd speak into your soul,'' Haeger said. ''Like, I felt it. I was like, `OK!'''
Florida (56-6) will play LSU on Friday, after the Tigers defeated Auburn 6-1. Tennessee (47-16) will play Auburn in an elimination game on Saturday.
Haeger, the only player in NCAA history to have more than 60 homers and 60 wins in a college career, opened the scoring against Tennessee with a solo home run to left field.
''She's a great hitter,'' Tennessee starter Rainey Gaffin, who got the loss, said. ''Two-strike at-bat, two outs. She tapped a good pitch. I left it up a little too much, and she attacked it. I give her props for that. She was attacking all day.''
Kayli Kvistad, a freshman, followed with a two-run shot to center in the third to make it 3-0.
Haeger (29-1) had a no-hitter going until Megan Geer's two-run homer in the fourth trimmed Florida's lead to 3-2.
''If you leave one ball up here at the College World Series, it can get taken out of the yard against good teams like that,'' she said. ''I was just trying to buckle down and get the next girl out.''
Florida added two runs in the fourth inning and two more in the sixth.
The Lady Vols committed four errors, and just three of Florida's runs were earned.
''A lot of uncharacteristic mistakes by us that Florida definitely took advantage of,'' Tennessee co-coach Karen Weekly said.
Haeger said the familiarity with the environment helped.
''A lot of us, this is our third time back here,'' she said. ''For me, I went out there, and it felt a lot different than it had before. I felt so comfortable. Nobody felt nervous, and you can definitely tell by how we played.''