The walk-off home run. It’s the greatest, most adrenaline-filled, blood-pumping play in all of sports. Don’t even try to tell me you don’t get chills watching Joe Carter’s World Series walk-off or LSU’s Warren Morris’ national championship-winning long ball, which is still the greatest in college baseball history.
The Georgia Bulldogs have a penchant for late-game heroics, too. Sony Michel’s overtime touchdown sent UGA to the national title game in 2018. UGA baseball and basketball once captured walk-off victories on the same day. But I’m not sure any of those top what the 2016 Georgia softball team accomplished.
2016 Georgia Softball
The Bulldogs were really nothing special this year. They finished 12-12 in SEC play and 46-20 overall. By the time the NCAA Tournament rolled around at the end of the season, UGA was pegged as the 16-seed.
I think I speak for all UGA softball fans when I say a collective groan was released the minute they realized the Bulldogs would have to play the No. 1-seed Florida Gators in NCAA Super Regionals. UF wasn’t just the top-seed in the country, they were the two-time national champions and entered Super Regionals a ridiculous 56-5. This is one of the best teams in the history of college softball with “one of the most balanced and dominant pitching staffs in the modern era,” as ESPN’s Graham Hays wrote.
If UGA head coach Lu Harris-Champer wanted to make Georgia a champion, that run would have to go through Gainesville, where the classic saying is “only Gators get out alive.” I guess 2016 marked an exception.
Kaylee Puailoa Pinch-Hit Walk-Off HR
It was something out of a movie.
Kaylee Puailoa, the senior, stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter. Georgia was down 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 2 on May 27, 2016. A loss would force a winner-take-all Game 3 that Georgia sure as hell didn’t want.
Two outs. One on. Down to her last strike, on an 0-2 count nonetheless.
Puailoa had done it. She launched an Aleshia Ocasio belt-high fastball over the centerfield fence for a walk-off two-run home run. She silenced the thousands of Florida fans in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, and sent her teammates and coaches into an absolute frenzy as well as the Bulldogs to the 2016 Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Then, the ‘Dawg pile.
“Possibly, a rise ball,” Puailoa told the Herald Tribune of the pitch. “I’m thinking it was right down the middle.”
In all the rivalry history between Florida-Georgia across all sports, this moment — an ecstatic one for UGA and a heartbreaking one for UF — has to rank right up there.
Georgia headed to the WCWS for just the fourth time in program history. They beat Florida State in their opening game before falling to Auburn and LSU. But the path that led them to Oklahoma City and Puailoa’s home run that got them there is etched in the University of Georgia history books.
This post was originally published on May 14, 2020.