Florida catcher Tiffany DeFelice took a 1-2 pitch from Arkansas pitcher Hope McLemore and drove it deep to left center for a double that started a three-run inning.
This may sound routine for a player on a team that is fifth in the country in runs per game; however, routine is not the word one would use to describe DeFelice’s first hit at Katie Seashole Pressly stadium since a fourth-inning single against USF on Feb. 13.
While the senior from Coral Springs will admit that she is not happy with the way she has swung the bat this year, her drought wasn’t due to a slump like the six-game slide the Gators snapped as a team on Friday with a 4-0 win against the Razorbacks. It was instead due to injury, a setback that head coach Tim Walton referred to as a hand contusion.
Although she launched a second inning in which the Gators accounted for three of their four runs on Friday, it was other aspects of the game where her recent return from injury seemed to have the largest impact.
With 159 starts in her Florida career, only fellow seniors Megan Bush, Aja Paculba and Kelsey Bruder have started more games for the Gators than DeFelice.
“We really value Tiffany’s experience and her knowledge of the game,” Bruder said.
Experience at catcher becomes increasingly valuable when there is a freshman pitcher in the circle.
During the Gators’ six-game losing streak, freshman Hannah Rogers gave up 29 runs in four starts. She struggled avoiding big innings, giving up three or more runs in an inning six times during that four-game stretch.
On Sunday, Kentucky registered an eight-run first inning against her.
So it made sense Friday when DeFelice sensed that it may be time for a quick intervention after Arkansas got its first hit of the day in the third inning
“I just joke around with her,” DeFelice said. “I just say anything I can to get her to smile and make her laugh.”
Rogers, whose focus helped make her one of the best pitchers in the SEC just a couple of weeks ago, appreciates the return of senior leadership behind the plate.
“I really like her because whenever I get in bad situations, like if runners have gotten on, she always comes out and talks to me and tells me to calm down or says something to pump me up,” Rogers said.
Sophomore Brittany Schutte filled in well at catcher during DeFelice’s absence, but the defense seemed more in its comfort zone on Friday with Schutte back at her more typical right field slot and DeFelice behind the plate.
“Tiffany is just a leader, an all-around leader. She has so much passion for the game,” Bush said on Wednesday.
Her leadership will be magnified as long as Stephanie Brombacher continues serving what seems to be the longest “day-to-day” injury timetable of all time.
“I just want to help out my team in any way I can. If it’s a walk, if it’s a bunt, if it’s a single, I’m totally cool,” DeFelice said.
As for her hand, she seems to be getting by with the rush of Florida’s first win in 19 days and a little help from the trainers.
“Right now, it’s feeling amazing,” DeFelice said. “Tape is a great invention. Everything feels better after a win.”
Gator Country reporter Bryan Holt can be reached at BryanHolt@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/BryanHoltGC.