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Georgia sweeps two-time defending champion Florida with pinch-hit walk-off home run

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Walk-off pinch-hit homer sends Georgia to Women's College World Series (0:44)

Georgia pinch hitter Kaylee Puailoa shows bunt, but pulls it back and takes the 0-2 pitch over the center field wall to send Georgia to the College World Series, defeating Florida 3-2. (0:44)

We knew the Gainesville super regional would be about an SEC team trying to do what only one college softball team had ever done. A lot of us just had the wrong team and the wrong feat.

UCLA's three consecutive national championships are safe for at least three more years.

Hawaii, on the other hand, has some company when it comes to all-time tournament upsets.

Down a run in the game and down to its final strike to prevent a winner-take-all finale that would have favored the host, No. 16 Georgia stunned two-time defending national champion and No. 1 seed Florida 3-2 on Kaylee Puailoa's pinch-hit walk-off two-run home run to center field.

Six years after Hawaii's Jenna Rodriguez eliminated top-seeded Alabama on a walk-off home run, the first time the top seed was eliminated in a super regional, Puailoa matched the feat.

If what transpired in Gainesville, Florida, wasn't the greatest upset in tournament history -- Georgia was a national seed, after all -- it was surely the most significant in the tournament's 64-team format. Georgia didn't just beat the No. 1 seed. It beat the team that won the past two national championships, held down the No. 1 ranking for all but one week this season and entered the super regional with a 56-5 record built on one of the most balanced and dominant pitching staffs in the modern era.

This wasn't quite what it would have been had the Connecticut women's basketball team lost in the Sweet 16 this spring. But it wasn't that far from it, either.

That the hit came from a senior who might have seen her career end without an opportunity to do anything about it had Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer not elected to send her to plate in the seventh inning was further proof that the story leading up to the super regional was right.

It was just being told about the wrong characters.

This was a softball series about a senior class cementing its legacy. It just happened to be the class of Bulldogs who spent the past three seasons in the shadow of the Gators and the five other SEC rivals who they watched make the trip to the Women's College World Series.

So after stunning Florida in the series opener, the second game was the opportunity for six Georgia seniors who began the day with 177 wins but no trips to Oklahoma City.

"When we were at the hotel today, they just kept talking about how much trust they have for each other, how much love they have for each other and how much genuine belief and caring about each other [they have]," Harris-Champer said. "That goes so far."

Had the series gone to a third game, Florida would have had momentum, two rested pitchers with All-American credentials and the home crowd on its side. It had to be this game.

The lone senior not in the starting lineup, Puailoa said she listened to left-handed-hitting teammates tell her to stay on top of a rise ball from Florida starter Aleshia Ocasio that they felt wasn't jumping in the final few feet of its journey to the plate. She did that. But she wasn't alone. After Florida gave up just 18 home runs in its first 62 games this season, Georgia senior Katie Browne hit a solo shot in the second inning that grabbed the lead and erased any suggestion Thursday was a fluke.

With momentum in Florida's favor after it scrapped together two runs in the top of the fifth, Georgia senior Alex Hugo made her second unforgettable defensive play of the series. Falling away from the direction she was throwing as she leaped in the air to avoid a slide, Hugo completed a double play that erased a Florida leadoff single in the top of the sixth inning.

Then she turned matters back over to senior ace Chelsea Wilkinson for the final four outs.

Factoring in the stakes, it's difficult to come up with many more impressive super regional pitching performances than that turned in by Wilkinson. Perhaps what Virginia Techs's Angela Tincher did over three games of a 2008 super regional upset at Michigan bests it, but the list is short.

Wilkinson had one bad inning in two starts in Gainesville. Second among active pitchers in career wins, she limited the Gators to five hits and two runs Friday, just 24 hours after she threw a three-hit shutout.

The loss shouldn't tarnish Florida's senior class. They arrived at one of the few moments of turmoil in Tim Walton's tenure, the first class after a regional exit and player dismissals in 2012. They were the backbone of back-to-back national championships and a clubhouse culture that is one of the models for the sport.

As Gators senior center fielder Kirsti Merritt ran out of room on Puailoa's home run, slamming into the fence as the ball sailed over her head, this loss denied them only a chance to add to that legacy.

It allowed six Georgia players to make sure no one ever forgets theirs.

Player of the day

Sometimes it is difficult to choose between a great hitting game and a stellar pitching performance. Occasionally, there is no reason to choose. Pitcher? Hitter? James Madison's Megan Good was simply the best player.

Good might have landed here solely on the strength of her two home runs in No. 7 James Madison's 3-2 win over No. 10 LSU. That is an impressive haul with or without any context. But it's more impressive given LSU ace Carley Hoover had allowed just 11 home runs in more than 170 innings entering the day. And it's more impressive still given that Good's team was without cleanup hitter Jailyn Ford for much of the game because of a shoulder injury and needed someone to pick up the offensive slack.

You never would have guessed Good's greatest claim to fame this season was her pitching, ranked among national leaders with a 0.91 ERA and best in the nation with 32 wins. Although you might have guessed that after she also provided four innings of one-hit relief for Ford, Friday's starter in James Madison's Game 1 win.

Highlight of the day

Rewind a few minutes before the role Andrea Hawkins played on national walk-off day, slapping an infield single that brought home pinch runner Merris Schroder in the eighth inning of No. 6 Alabama's 2-1 win over No. 11 Washington. Because although Erin Weaver is among the best in the business and beloved in the clubhouse, Alabama would generally prefer that she get as little air time as possible in big games. It doesn't bode well if she is on the field. But there was the Crimson Tide's athletic trainer in the thick of things in the top of the eighth inning Friday night, working on what appeared to be a blister that split open on one of pitcher Alexis Osorio's fingers. Wound triaged but Huskies still on second and third base, Osorio went back to work, rubbed her pitching hand in the dirt a few times and used her 156th pitch of the night for an inning-ending strikeout, her 13th of the night.

Another ticket punched

Oklahoma will make the short drive up Interstate 35 for the fifth time in the past six seasons after a 7-6 win over Louisiana-Lafayette to sweep the Norman super regional. This will be the first World Series appearance in that recent run that doesn't include Keilani Ricketts or Lauren Chamberlain. So it was fitting that after Louisiana-Lafayette erased a three-run deficit Friday night to pull level, Sooners freshman Sydney Romero led off the next inning with a home run off the foul pole in left and classmate Shay Knighten drove in two more runs the next inning. The ending got tense, the potential winning run at the plate for another possible seventh-inning walk-off. But as much as continuing the run of those who came before them, an Oklahoma lineup that featured freshmen in four of the top five spots in the order and a sophomore ace in the circle may more accurately be beginning one of its own.

Looking ahead

The busiest day of super regionals awaits. In addition to the conclusion of the super regionals in Harrisonburg, Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee, where No. 8 Florida State beat Utah 6-2 in the opening game, the final three series begin. No. 15 Missouri visits No. 2 Michigan, Arizona visits No. 4 Auburn and No. 12 UCLA visits No. 5 UCLA.