The best news for Florida softball coach Tim Walton Wednesday afternoon was that the rain storms that blew into north central Florida from the Gulf of Mexico somehow missed Gainesville, allowing the fifth-ranked Gators (39-7) to get in a doubleheader with the University of North Florida Ospreys (23-27). That it turned into little more than a glorified batting practice didn’t matter to Walton. Right now, he knows his team just needs some games as tournament time approaches.
“We’ve had seven rainouts; we just need to play,” Walton said after the Gators disposed of the Ospreys 22-0 and 8-0 in two five-inning games abbreviated by the mercy rule. “It’s about playing games. Sometimes it’s just attrition. Obviously the momentum was ours all the way through. We did some situational things. We hit with two outs, hit with two strikes, moving runners along … I think overall we did a good job.”
Those games lost to rain and inclement weather are at bats lost for Walton’s hitters and critical innings for a pitching staff that is starting to get in a groove at just the right time. The Gators have three more regular season games with South Carolina at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium this weekend and then the tournaments begin. For a team trying to get back to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series for a third straight year, getting some momentum heading into tournament time is a really big deal.
Wednesday, the Gators kept the momentum going from their weekend series with Mississippi State, where they outscored the Bulldogs 17-1 in two games (third was rained out). In their two-game set against North Florida, the Gators set a new school record for home runs in a single season (88) with a seven homer barrage that included six in the first game when the Gators set a school mark for runs in a single game (22) and runs in a single inning (14 in the third).
Francesca Enea hit a two-run home run in the first inning of game one, her 18th of the season, which tied her own school record set last year. The all-time Florida leader in home runs with 59, Enea moved within one of the Southeastern Conference career record of 60 held by Kelly Kretschman of Alabama. Enea said she knew the moment the ball left her bat that it was going to leave the yard.
“I usually never know until I round first and the song comes on except on the first one today, I said ‘for sure, that’s a home run,’” Enea said.
Enea’s first inning homer was followed up by a three-run blast by Tiffany DeFelice that staked the Gators to a 5-0 lead. DeFelice, who missed 15 games due to an injury, continued her comeback in game two with a three-run homer in the first, part of a six-run uprising that put that game out of the Ospreys’ reach.
The Gators could have gone on cruise control from that point onward in game one because there was no way North Florida hitters were going to touch Stephanie Brombacher, who lowered her season ERA to 2.04. Brombacher (26-5) pitched three hitless innings, striking out five and walking two before giving way to Erin Schuppert, who pitched two spotless innings, striking out four to finish things out.
Brittany Schutte, who hit her 14th homer of the season in the 14-run third inning to break the old record for homers by a freshman that she shared with Megan Bush, hit a two-run double in the second inning and a three-run homer in the fourth when the Gators batted around twice.
Also in that big third-inning eruption, Kelsey Bruder hit her 10th homer of the season and the second grand slam of her Florida career. Later in the inning, freshman Kelsey Horton hit her fourth homer of the year, a three-run shot to center field. Horton hit a pair of doubles in game two and drove in three more runs. In 25 at-bats this season, Horton is hitting .360 with three doubles and four home runs among her nine hits.
Florida’s six-run first inning in game two gave freshman Ensley Gammel all the support she needed to improve her record to 12-2 on the season. Gammel gave up three hits, struck out five and more importantly, walked only one as she lowered her ERA to 2.09 for the season.
The Gators carry a four-game winning streak into the weekend series with South Carolina. Walton likes the way Brombacher and Gammel are throwing the ball and he’s very pleased with the groove his hitters are in. Now that the spring semester is over, there are no classes to worry about so the Gators can turn their complete focus to softball.
“School’s over so overall we have a good focus on softball right now,” Walton said. “I think our pitching staff’s done a good job. I like where we’re at. I like the way we’ve been playing defense behind them but at the end of the day you have to swing the bat and score some runs. We’re scoring runs and feeling good about the way we’re swinging the bat.”