The 2014 Women's College World Series offered plenty of highlights, with both the drama of the moment and the talent of the athletes producing spectacular action.
What ended in a dominant World Series win for the Florida Gators began as really anyone's tournament. When regionals began, the Gators were ranked fifth, but they emerged as the top team in softball and the 2014 WCWS champs.
Along the way, Florida wasn't the only team to put spectacular performances on display. Teams made every game in Oklahoma City compelling viewing, elevating the on-field product with the high-stakes circumstances surrounding it.
Florida's Telling Start
But before we move on to the other great achievements in OKC, let's take the time to give the Gators their due.
If you weren't thinking of them as championship material when they first took the field at the WCWS, they very quickly convinced you.
In the opener against No. 13 Baylor, Florida made a very good squad look silly on a national stage. Capped off by Chelsea Herndon's walk-off grand slam, the eventual champs took down the Bears by mercy rule, drubbing Baylor 11-0 in five innings.
As ESPN.com's Graham Hays noted after the game, a Florida win to kick off the WCWS has a history of leading to even greater success for the Gators.
Florida run-rules Baylor 11-0 on walk-off grand slam. Gators reached the title series each of the previous two times they won first game.— Graham Hays (@grahamhays) May 29, 2014
Now it's all three. At the time, that was a very impressive victory. In the days that would come, it would turn into something much bigger.
Baylor Bearing Down
That blowout wasn't the end of Baylor, though. Relegated to the losers bracket, the Bears fought back to earn a rematch with Florida as one of the final four teams remaining.
How Baylor got that far is the amazing part.
Unreal. Baylor comes back to win in extra innings. Kentucky softball had a 7-0 lead in the sixth, one out away in seventh, now eliminated.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) June 1, 2014
In a win-or-go-home game for both teams, Kentucky held a 7-0 lead as the Bears came to bat in the bottom of the sixth. Baylor tacked on three in the sixth and four in the seventh to send the game to extra innings, winning when Kaitlyn Thumann came around from second to score on an error in the bottom of the eighth.
Baylor coach Glenn Moore had this to say after the game, per ESPN.com:
Wow. I won't forget that one until I forget who I am. These girls are incredible. They just didn't quit believing. For five innings, we weren't even in the game. That's why you play seven, I guess. I just thought we were facing a team destined to win and (there was) nothing we could do about it.
That's the drama of the game and of the double-elimination as well: Baylor showed everyone that until the final out is recorded and a team is officially knocked out, it still has a real chance to come back and win.
The Brilliance of Jaclyn Traina
By the time Alabama met Florida in the championship series, the Gators had fully assumed the character of world beaters. Yet the game prior featured a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the entire tournament.
The Oregon Ducks won a school-record 56 games in 2014, but Alabama made them look ordinary in ousting them from the WCWS.
More to the point, Jaclyn Traina completely neutralized them, as the Crimson Tide workhorse propelled her squad past Oregon with a four-hit, eight-strikeout performance in a 2-0 victory.
After seeing his team achieve so much success this season, Ducks assistant Mike White could only tip his hat to Traina after she completely shut down his players.
Oregon's Mike White on Jaclyn Traina: "She just challenges you. She just flat-out blew it by us. I've got give her props for that."— Tommy Deas (@tommydeas) June 1, 2014
White's take on Traina could really serve as a lens through which to view the whole Women's College World Series: When extraordinary, humbling things happen, all you can do is give them the appreciation they deserve.