OKLAHOMA CITY — Kirsti Merritt hit a three-run homer and Florida defeated Alabama 6-3 on Tuesday night to win its first NCAA softball championship.
The Gators (55-12) swept the championship series 2-0. Florida was the national runnerup in 2009 and 2011.
Alabama's Jackie Traina, one of the nation's best pitchers, gave up five runs in 11/3 innings before getting pulled. She finished 26-5.
Florida coach Tim Walton chose not to start ace Hannah Rogers, but she entered the game in the sixth inning after Lauren Haeger and Delanie Gourley (15-1) gave her a lead. She gave up one run in two innings. Merritt helped her with a spectacular diving catch in centerfield for the first out in the top of the seventh.
Florida beat its SEC rival despite committing four errors and giving Alabama (53-13) plenty of chances to score.
It looked early as though Walton's decision to start Haeger would backfire. After getting just one hit in the first six innings Monday against Rogers, Alabama got singles from Haylie McCleney and Kallie Case in its first two at-bats on Tuesday. Jadyn Spencer singled to knock in McCleney, giving Alabama its first run of the championship series. But the Crimson Tide got just one run out of the three-hit inning.
In the bottom of the first, Stephanie Tofft cranked a 2-and-2 pitch with two outs over the leftfield fence. Traina threw 34 pitches in the first inning.
Florida's Kelsey Stewart knocked in Aubree Munro to give the Gators a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second. After that, Merritt's homer pushed the lead to 5-1 and chased Traina.
Alabama's Kaila Hunt hit a solo shot in the top of the third to trim Florida's lead to 5-2.
Haeger lasted three innings before giving way to Gourley, a freshman. After an error, Alabama had runners on second and third with no outs. McCleney walked to load the bases with two outs, but the Gators again escaped unscathed.
Rogers entered in the top of the sixth and pitched a perfect inning. Florida gave her an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth to make it 6-2. McCleney tripled with one out in the top of the seventh, and Hunt knocked her in with two outs, but that was all the Crimson Tide got out of the inning.
Saban's deal worth nearly $7M a year
Alabama coach Nick Saban is a mere bonus or two from knocking down another salary barrier and becoming the $7 million man. A unanimous vote by the Alabama system trustees' compensation committee Tuesday made Saban's new eight-year, $55.2 million deal official nearly six months after the university announced the agreement. The 62-year-old Saban will make $6.5 million in base pay and what the university describes as a "talent fee" plus a $400,000 completion bonus for each year and other incentives. It's a seven-figure raise over the eight-year contract worth about $5.6 million annually he received in March 2012. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will make $2.074 million over three years.
Georgia: Starting safety Tray Matthews won't return. He and three former teammates are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Athens-Clarke County court after being charged three months ago with illegally cashing scholarship checks.
Texas A&M: Linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive lineman Isaiah Golden have been dismissed from the team after both were arrested on drug charges in the last few months. Claiborne was named to the SEC All-Freshman team with 89 tackles, including seven for losses last season. He started nine games and forced two fumbles. Golden appeared in 11 games as a freshman last season and had 30 tackles and three tackles for losses.