For Cheyenne Coyle, it came down to the wire on deciding whether to join UCLA or the Florida softball program.
With her performance last weekend against the Bruins, it seemed like she made the right decision.
Coyle hit two home runs to cap off a five-RBI weekend at the plate batting in the sixth spot ahead of senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice.
The ALL-SEC freshman has added a spark in the middle of the lineup that has resulted in scoring opportunities with runners on and a perfect leadoff hitter when she starts off a frame.
On the defensive end, Coyle has been close to flawless at shortstop making difficult plays look routine as added assurance from her teammates has allowed her to shake off mistakes she makes in the field.
“Obviously she plays for me,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said, “(but) I think she’s the best shortstop in the country. She’s only a freshman, but she can make plays look routine.”
Coyle said she has gained the most this season from working alongside senior second baseman Aja Paculba as Walton looks at the duo as the leaders of the infield.
Paculba said the freshman has taken her play at short to another level, beyond what her senior teammate, Megan Bush, had done at the position before Coyle’s arrival.
“She’s making plays in the 5-6 hole that you look at and go, ‘how did she do that?’” Paculba said. “So I think with her athleticism, it’s really helped our team out a lot.”
Despite this season being her first, Paculba thinks Coyle has flourished in taking on such a pivotal role on the team straight out of high school.
“I think one of the things I’ve helped her with is keeping her relaxed,” Paculba said. “Letting her know that it’s OK to make mistakes and that we have her back.”
As for Bush, the Gators’ former shortstop has no problems with her move to first base or helping out Coyle when she needs it.
“I just go out there and tell her how much trouble I had with it and she 20 times better than I was, so I want her to know that no matter what happens – if she makes an error, if she strikes out – it’s going to be (OK),” Bush said. “She’s still a great shortstop. She can play anywhere in the country and that’s just what I tell her.”
Coyle will look to stay red-hot in the NCAA Super Regional this weekend against the No. 13 seed Oregon (48-14), and its ace, Jessica Moore.
Moore, who is only a sophomore, threw all 21 innings in Oregon’s regional wins over Fordham, Albany (NY), and Penn State, while recording 25 strikeouts. On the year, she’s gone 24-9 with a 1.59 ERA in 39 games.
The Gators begin the three-game series with the Ducks on Friday at 2 p.m., at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Game two and three (if necessary) will be played on Saturday at noon and 2:30 p.m., respectively.
As for Coyle, the freshman has shown she is clearly not intimidated by magnitude of postseason play, but Paculba thinks differently.
“Obviously being a freshman, it’s a little nerve-racking,” Paculba said. “She might be bluffing a little bit, but I think with her acting the way she’s been acting and playing the way she’s been playing, it really helps us because it’s just one less thing we have to worry about.”
Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.