Oklahoma City is a long ways from Florida, but Gator softball star Hannah Rogers can look to her success in Lake Wales as an important proving ground for her greatest triumph.
Rogers was named the Most Outstanding Player as the Gainesville school earned its 33rd national championship, and first ever in softball, last week.
Rogers pitched every game but the clincher in the Gators undefeated run at the Women’s College World Series.
Long time Highlander softball coach Nancy Denton and husband, Jack, made the trip to Oklahoma City for the two games that propelled Florida into the best-of-three championship series against rival Alabama.
And Rogers put on quite a show for her former coach, who she keeps a close relationship with.
She pitched a shutout to defeat the No. 1 seeded Oregon Ducks, and followed that with a 6-3 win over Baylor.
Rogers started, and won, Florida’s opening matchup over Alabama, and pitched the final two innings in the clincher over the Crimson Tide. Florida coaches had decided not to start Rogers in game two, since all the final round games were scheduled to be played on consecutive days, and they wanted to give Alabama a different look from the mound. In all, the Gators went 10-1 in the NCAA tournament, outscoring their opponents 81-10.
Rogers post season line was impressive too: 7-0 with an ERA of 0.64. In the WCWS, she was 4-0 with an ERA of 1.00.
The NCAA title clinched a triple crown of sort for Rogers, who in 2005 led Lake Wales to a Little League World Series softball championship, and in 2007 led the Highlanders (with many of the same players from the 2005 title team) to the Class 4A Florida state championship.
Denton said those experiences helped Rogers close the deal last week.
“That Little League team that went to the World Series, those girls found a way to win. They thought they were supposed to win, always. And it was that way in high school tool. They just expected that they were going to win. They never got down, and I think Hannah’s carried that along,” Denton said. “She was super driven, super focused. They were all focused on it, and figured out they were going to win it.”
Her pitch repertoire has changed some since her days as a Highlander, something else that factored into her impressive performance.
“When she was in high school, she lived on the curve. She had two main pitches, one was the curve and one was the fastball that she’d throw at the batters’ hands,” Denton recalled. “They always swung at it, the high inside fastball. What she threw out there was mostly drops and drop curves, diving down to the outside corner. I’ve never seen Hannah’s ball move as well as it has in the last month. She’s really worked on that. Everything just clicked.”
Rogers had been to the college World Series as both a freshman and junior, but of course, had never won the national title.
“It’s been awesome, just to finish it with these girls, just all the hard work we put in, from 6 a.m. to long practices,” Rogers said during a celebration in Gainesville last week. “I just got really focused. I think we all stepped our game up at the right time.”