Debuting on the mound wearing a Gators jersey is a feeling Lauren Haeger said she couldn’t explain.
“It’s all in your mind and in your heart and what you’ve worked so hard for,” the freshman gushed.
The feeling washed over Haeger when she nabbed her first start for Florida in its victory against Maine in the weekend’s USF-Fairfield Inn and Suites Tampa North Tournament.
The game was the second of five the softball team rifled through in just three days, a tournament which Florida emerged from undefeated.
“It was a long first weekend for all of us,” Haeger admitted.
Now, with only two days of prep and rest, the Gators must recharge and ready themselves for their home opener against Jacksonville Wednesday night.
But Sami Fagan, who was just pinned as the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week for her debut performances, said she’s strong mentally and physically going into the midweek matchup.
“Mentally, I’m a little more confident how are team is — to see us play games,” Fagan said. “It just gives me a better feel how we’re going to do. Physically, I’m good. We’ve been training hard, so I’m in good shape and ready to play more.”
Fagan gave credit to the team’s trainers in successfully preparing the players for the strenuous weekend, and Haeger added the team is rejuvenated following this weekend’s competition.
“We rested up and got our bodies right and our minds right,” she said. “We’re ready.”
While Haeger, a Peoria, Ariz., native admitted she didn’t know much about the background of Jacksonville Dolphins, she and Fagan said the coaching staff has been honing in on the fact that the Dolphins have strong pitching, requiring the Gators to discipline themselves at the plate.
In the tournament, the Gators already proved themselves as a strong weapon offensively, run-ruling opposing teams three times.
Defensively, Fagan said she thinks the infield rotation will continue to switch around until Walton gets a good feel for a solid lineup.
“We have a lot of players that can play a lot of different positions,” Fagan said.
Haeger said she’s looking forward to playing at home for the home field advantage of not having someone else tell the team when they can hit and use the cages. She said it’ll be more relaxed for Florida, being able to flow with its own pregame routine rather than shifting it around based on an opposing team calling the pregame shots.
At the USF game, the crowd hit a record 1,261 for the USF Softball Stadium. Fagan said having a crowd bursting to that volume on home soil would pump them up, but it’s not what she’s excited for most about Wednesday.
“I’m just looking forward to play,” Fagan said. “Fans, if they’re there they’re there. If they’re not, it’s OK. I just want to play.”
Watch Fagan and the Gators play in their first home game of the season on at 5 p.m. today against Jacksonville.
Moving up to No. 1
After the Gators’ undefeated run this weekend, the team has moved up to No. 1 in the NCAA Division 1 rankings, followed by Alabama at No. 2 and California rounding out the top three.
Gator Country reporter Allison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at @allisonbanko.