GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Through a marathon day of softball that included two games, a rules dispute and close to six hours of weather delays, Washington fell a game short of reaching the Women’s College World Series.
Florida center fielder Kristi Merritt belted a three-run homer during a four-run fifth inning, lifting the host Gators to an 8-0, five-inning win over Washington in the third and deciding game of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional.
But the third game didn’t end without a slight controversy. Shortly after a long weather delay, Washington coach Heather Tarr raised an issue with umpires after spotting a Florida softball video staff member with a laptop in center field that was providing a “live tag” video feed to the Florida coaching staff.
According to NCAA rules, live tag videos are permissible during the regular season, but not during the postseason. However, NCAA officials on site determined the offense was not protestable. The Florida video staff member was forced to turn in his laptop shortly after play resumed in the fourth inning.
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“You are just not allowed to live tag video in the center field in the championship,” Tarr said. “We just wanted to make sure the umpires knew about it and handled it as they needed to.”
Said Florida coach Tim Walton: “I’m not even going to comment on it because it was not protestable.”
The live tag videos are used for hitters to determine locations of pitches from opposing pitchers. Tarr wouldn’t comment when asked if it gave the Gators a competitive advantage. But in the bottom of the fifth, with Florida up 4-0, the Gators rallied for four more runs against Washington starter Bryana Walker (19-9) to close out the game.
“I’m sure it fired up their fans a little bit,” Tarr said.
Washington forced the deciding third game with a 4-3 win over the Gators earlier Sunday afternoon. Senior pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby carried the Huskies both at the plate and in the circle. Inglesby allowed three runs over seven innings for a complete-game win and belted a go-ahead, two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.
Inglesby launched a 2-1 pitch from Florida starter Lauren Haeger for her seventh home run of the season and third career postseason home run. Washington supported Ingelsby with a strong defensive effort. Left fielder Whitney Jones made a running catch in left field to save two runs and second baseman Kelli Suguro cut down the potential tying run for the Gators at the plate in the top of the sixth inning.
It was Florida’s first loss at home in a Super Regional after 11 straight wins dating to 2008.
“Credit to Washington,” Walton said. “I kind of had a feeling, watching them on film, that this was going to go to three games.”
The second game was interrupted by a pair of delays lasting 3 hours, 17 minutes and 2 hours, 35 minutes due to rain and lightning. During the long breaks, Washington players threw footballs and Frisbees in the outfield to stay loose.
“Being from Seattle, weather delays aren’t actually new to us,” Washington center fielder Victoria Hayward said. “We’ve learned to be loose during those times … that’s no reason for how the game ended.”
Just before the second weather delay, Florida second baseman Kelsey Stewart launched a three-run homer off Walker, giving the Gators a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning. Offensively, Washington couldn’t solve Florida senior starter Hannah Rogers (26-8), who pitched a five inning, one-hit shutout.
“She kept us off-balance,” Washington third baseman Kylee Lahners said.
Washington finished its season 36-15. An emotional Tarr said it will be tough to part with seven Washington seniors who have played together since they were freshmen and all graduated together.
“They’ve probably grown more than any senior class I’ve ever had so it will be sad to lose them,” Tarr said. “But I’m proud of our team this year.”