Florida reaches championship series after extra-inning win

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Monday, June 1, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kristi Merritt and Lauren Haeger made the throws that have Florida on the verge of a repeat.

Merritt, a center fielder, threw out runners at the plate in the second and fourth innings, and Haeger pitched a complete game to give Florida a 3-2 victory over Auburn in nine innings Sunday, sending the defending national champion Gators back into the championship series.

It was the Gators' 14th straight win in the NCAA tournament, one shy of the all-time record.

Haeger gave up 11 hits, but she constantly got out of jams to claim her third win at this year's World Series.

"It was a battle," Haeger said. "It was a dogfight. It was a nice, clean softball game of just fighting each other and getting outs when we needed to."

Nicole DeWitt's single in the bottom of the ninth scored Justine McLean for the game winner, Florida's eighth walk-off victory of the year. McLean had advanced to second on a wild pitch before DeWitt's hit off Auburn reliever Marcy Harper.

"We escaped," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "I think escaped is probably a good word."

Florida (58-6) will play Michigan (59-6) in the best-of-three championship series, which begins Monday. Michigan beat LSU 6-3 on Sunday to advance.

The Gators reached the championship series for the fourth time in school history after allowing four runs over their eight tournament games so far this season.

They nearly won Sunday's game in the bottom of the eighth, but Auburn center fielder Morgan Estell threw out Francesca Martinez at home with two outs and the score tied 2-2.

The Tigers left 14 runners on base, squandering their chance to force a second game against Florida on Sunday. Florida needed just one win, but Auburn needed two in the double-elimination tournament to advance to the championship series.

Auburn (56-11) earned its first two World Series wins Saturday with victories over Tennessee and UCLA.

"Just getting here was building a legacy here at Auburn," Tigers first baseman Jade Rhodes said. "Getting here and winning games is more than we could ever ask for."

Early on, the Tigers had Haeger in trouble. Auburn loaded the bases with one out in the second inning and had its two All-Americans, Emily Carosone and Kasey Cooper, coming up to bat. Carosone lined out to Merritt, who threw out Estell at the plate to end the inning.

Florida loaded the bases in the bottom of the third, and McLean scored on a wild pitch to put the Gators on the board.

In the fourth, Auburn got the bases loaded again with one out. This time, the Tigers took advantage. Branndi Melero singled to score two and put the Tigers up 2-1. It ended Haeger's scoreless inning streak at 13. Auburn nearly did more damage, but Merritt threw out Carosone at home to end the threat.

Florida answered quickly. Taylore Fuller's rocket just cleared the left-field fence in the fourth inning to tie the score.

"That's an experience that's once in a lifetime," she said. "Not very many people get to experience that. I was very happy for my family that got to see that."

Now the Gators have a chance to have another rare experience; no team has repeated since Arizona in 2006 and 2007. UCLA and Arizona are the only schools ever to repeat.

The Associated Press and ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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