Gators can’t hold off powerhouse Sooners in extra innings, eliminated in WCWS semifinal

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Florida softball team’s deepest postseason run in years ended in extra innings and a squandered lead to three-time defending national champion Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ Jayda Coleman hit a game-ending homer in the eighth inning for 6-5 victory in Tuesday’s WCWS semifinals to position Oklahoma for an unprecedented fourth straight title.

“It’s not easy when you have to end your season any time,” coach Tim Walton said. “This is the last time we’ll all be together. But it does make it a little bit sweeter to be at the College World Series and see our players find a way to get back to this stage, showcase their talents, make the entire Gator Nation and the University of Florida really proud of them.”

Coleman sent UF freshman Keagan Rothrock’s 154th pitch of the game over left field fence and the outstretched glove of Korbe Ortis. Coleman thrust her arms above her head as she rounded the bases and soon celebrated with teammates at home plate as fans screamed in the stadium just a half-hour drive from the Oklahoma campus in Norman.

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The second-seeded Sooners (57-7) will play No. 1 seed Texas (55-8) during a best-of-three championship series starting Wednesday night. The matchup pits two SEC newcomers set to officially join the 16-school league July 1 after two powerhouse athletic programs exit the Big 12.

Texas is 3-0 in the World Series this year, each game a one-hit shutout, including a 10-0 win Saturday against Florida.

On Tuesday, the fourth-seeded Gators (54-15) hit three home runs to build a 5-2 advantage against the Sooners during their first semifinal appearance since a 2017 loss in the finals to Oklahoma.

Sophomore catcher Jocelyn Erickson, who won a national title with Oklahoma last season before transferring to Gainesville where she earned SEC Player of the Year, hit a two-run homer in the top of the first inning for a 2-0 lead. Oklahoma designated hitter Ella Parker tied the score at 2 with two-run shot in the second.

Gators freshman third baseman Ariel Kowalewski’s two-run homer in the second and designated hitter Reagan Walsh’s solo effort in the third pushed their team’s advantage to three.

UF managed just one more hit, a single by center fielder Kendra Falby in the sixth. The inning ended with two runners stranded on base with the Gators clinging to a 5-4 lead after Oklahoma first baseman Cydney Sanders hit a two-run homer in the fourth.

Walton sensed his team needed insurance.

“You could feel it,” he said. “I was running a couple times trying to make something happen. I didn’t feel comfortable.”

Parker tied it with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, scoring Avery Hodge from second.

Parker’s three RBI followed a fierce collision with Florida star shortstop Skyler Wallace. Parker singled in the fifth and tried to stretch it into a double but collided with Wallace at second base as Wallace’s forearm hit Parker’s helmet. Both players stayed on the ground for a short time before getting up.

With the scored tied 5-5, the Gators sent just three batters to the plate in the seventh and eight innings. Rothrock (33-9) got out a jam in the seventh, but Coleman tagged the 19-year-old right hander an inning later during her 14th straight start.

Rothrock threw 284 pitches and allowed nine earned runs, just three during UF’s 9-3 win Monday, against one of the nation’s top offenses.

“I couldn’t have asked anything more,” Falby said. “She’s only going to get better. She wanted the ball. She would have fought Coach Walton if he would have not put her in today.

“Keagan is a gamer.”

After making a deep run with a team featuring seven freshmen and transfers Erickson and Otis, the Gators are well positioned to return to Oklahoma City in 2025.

The key loss will be Wallace, an All-American and school record-holder who hit a pair of home runs Monday. Wallace leaves the NCAA’s all-time leader in runs scored.

“I can’t really put much words into it, but … being a Gator is the best thing I ever did,” she said. “I stand on that.”