Midseason adversity refocused Gators for WCWS run

OKLAHOMA CITY — If you were to ask Florida softball head coach Tim Walton two months ago where his team would be in June, he wouldn’t have told you at the Women’s College World Series.

In the last weekend of March going into April, the Gators were experiencing their lowest point of their 2011 campaign losing six consecutive games to Georgia and Kentucky.

Florida struggled on all ends scoring just 23 runs while giving up 54 during the stretch without two major pieces of its team – seniors Stephanie Brombacher and Tiffany DeFelice.

Without Brombacher, who was injured with a right biceps injury, and DeFelice, troubled by a left wrist injury, Florida’s pitching struggled as Hannah Rogers, Ensley Gammel, and even third baseman Kasey Fagan saw time in the circle.

While Fagan pitched only two innings, Gammel took the loss in the first two games of the streak as control issues plagued her against Georgia. In 12 innings of work, she gave up 20 runs on 19 hits while walking 19 Bulldogs.

As for Rogers, who was serving a two-game suspension during those two games for intentionally throwing at a batter, fared no better during the last four games of the streak giving up 24 runs and 33 hits in 24.2 innings.

But as the stats point to the value the one-two punch from South Florida provide for the Gators, the team as a whole looked lost during the longest losing streak in Walton’s tenure.

“A couple of us lost faith for a couple of weeks and we didn’t know what was going on,” senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder said on Wednesday before the first day of the WCWS. “For so many years – my freshman year we lost five games, my sophomore year we lost five games. So it was a bit of a shock for us.”

Bruder said a team meeting at the end of the series with Kentucky influenced the team to play with a renewed confidence, and the team responded ending the season winning 17 of their next 18 games, and five out of seven games so far this postseason.

During that stretch, Walton credited his team’s recent success to “doing things the right way,” and having a renewed focus in practice and during games.

“I think for every program, every four years it’s good to have some adversity,” Walton said. “You hope it doesn’t happen every year but it’s good to pay attention to the process in which you go about your business and see the end result.”

The ideal end result for Florida going into the last week of the season will be winning its first national championship.

The Gators became the first team in SEC history to reach the WCWS four consecutive seasons, but left empty-handed in their previous three years, reaching the final two only once in 2009, where they were dismissed in two games by Washington.

As they begin their quest to send out the senior class of Brombacher, DeFelice, Bruder, Megan Bush and Aja Paculba in style on Thursday against Missouri at 9:30 p.m., it will be essential to remember the lesson they learned during their toughest stretch this season.

“There are a lot of things in life that aren’t always going to go your way,” Walton said. “The ball isn’t always going to bounce your way. You really have to pay attention to how you’re going about your business and that really helped us learn who we are as opposed to just wins and losses.”

2011 Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I All-Americans

The Gators nabbed six selections to the Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American teams, the most among all schools in the country.

Bush, Bruder and sophomore Brittany Schutte earned All-American first-team honors. Freshman Hannah Rogers was named to the second-team, and Paculba and junior Michelle Moultrie were named to the third-team.

Seven of the eight teams in the WCWS had at least two selections to one of the three teams.

Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.