Gators outlast Huskers in 15 innings

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It took more than five hours to play. It would take even longer to adequately explain what happened.

The first elimination game of the Women's College World Series blew past weird well before darkness fell on Hall of Fame Stadium and wound its way through bizarre, baffling and befuddling before it finally ran out of, well, outs.

No. 2 Florida defeated No. 14 Nebraska 9-8 in 15 innings to earn a short night of sleep and at least one more game in Oklahoma City on Sunday against Texas. The innings tied for the fourth-longest game in World Series history. The last game that went longer was a 17-inning contest between Arizona and Kansas in 1992. It went on and on, and at times it felt like it needed to be put out of its misery. But it managed to leave you wanting just a little more.

"I don't know that you could ask for anything more as a fan," Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said. "And I know you couldn't ask for anything more as a coach, on either side, in either dugout. It's a shame that someone has to lose that, but I don't really feel like anybody lost it because both teams just fought tooth and nail."

Florida's Lauren Haeger threw 111 pitches to get the win, and she had the lightest workload of any of the four pitchers who took the ball.

There were three home runs, half a dozen errors from one of the nation's best defenses, phantom forceouts and an All-American pitcher at one point spotted wearing a faux duck bill in the dugout -- between the part where Hannah Rogers started the game and the part where she got the save in relief.

"We hit a home run, and they hit a home run back," Florida coach Tim Walton said of 10th-inning drama. "That's the last thing I remember, to be honest with you. It's so many innings, I don't know exactly what happened after that."

There was a six-run third inning for Florida that seemed to consist largely of fielder's choices.

There was the fly ball to center field by Tatum Edwards in the bottom of the seventh that seemed equally plausible as a game-ending double play, a fly out or a single. That it was the latter meant several more hours of softball.

And of course, there was Nebraska senior Gabby Banda face down in dejection in the dirt at home plate in the bottom of the seventh inning. Right after she scored the run that tied the game. Caught in a rundown, Banda dove for home just as Florida third baseman Stephanie Tofft dove in pursuit and lost control of the ball as she was applying the tag.

"I actually thought I was out," Banda said. "I was crying on the plate because I thought I was out. But then I saw Brooke [Thomason] and she was yelling and me and she says, 'You're safe, You're safe.' ... So then I just kept crying.

"It was a cry-either-way moment."

A Nebraska error in the top of the 15th allowed the Gators to score a pair of runs after Haeger and Jessica Damico had reached with hits. Nebraska rallied for one run in the bottom of the inning, but the game ended with Edwards sliding into third while trying to take the extra base. Better this one didn't end on a pop up.

At some point during the extra innings, about the 28th inning by Revelle's recollection, Taylor Edwards turned to her coach as she stood on first base after a single and told Revelle "this is fun."

It was fun, even as it came dangerously close to too much of a good thing. And while Florida's relief afterward was to be expected, Nebraska's class and even laughter at some of the memories defined the night.

"Losing is never fun," Thomason said after her final game. "But losing a 15-inning game where both teams are fighting -- it's not like it was scoreless until the 15th inning; it was a dogfight for both sides. This game will be something, we were just saying earlier, that we're going to be able to talk about years and years and years from now."

Only two teams ever lost their opening game in the World Series and went on to win a title. Given that the Gators still needs three wins to get to the championship series, they seem unlikely to be the third.

But when people say stranger things have happened, they mean things like Saturday night.