The second baseman from Wildomar, Ca. leads the No. 10 Florida Gators (34-7, 10-6) softball team in doubles on the year with 12. If there was a statistic calculating leadership, Aja Paculba would be at the top of the list too.
Paculba proved her worth Tuesday night against the Florida International Golden Panthers (23-21, 9-6).
Up 3-0 and the bases loaded with two outs in the fourth inning, Paculba stood at the plate with the opportunity to break the game open.
Paculba smacked a bases-clearing double down the left field line, pushing the score to 6-0. Head coach Tim Walton could not express enough how important Paculba’s situational hitting was against FIU.
“You spent a lot of time working situationally,” Walton said. “Runners in scoring position and two outs is a turning point in every ball game and she delivered a good pitch down the line and ran the bases well.”
In addition to putting the game out of reach, Paculba matched a career high for doubles in a season. She pointed to the work the team undergoes in practice that helped her in such a pressure-packed spot.
“We work on that situation a lot in practice,” Paculba said. “I think by us working on it so much, I kind of stayed relaxed and knew that I needed to score at least one run in that situation, because everyone got on base in front of me.”
Paculba is one of five seniors on the team. Along with the other four, Stephanie Brombacher, Kelsey Bruder, Megan Bush and Tiffany DeFelice, have combined to go 216-27 so far in their four years at Florida.
As a senior, Paculba sees herself as a leader and understands that the team will depend on her to step up like she did against FIU.
“Personally, I feel like I have to come through in those types of situations more than say a freshman.” Paculba said. “I think that a lot of other people expect upperclassmen to come through in that. The five of us for sure, think that we have a little more responsibility in those situations.”
Not only do her teammates expect her to rise to the occasion, her coach does as well. Walton expressed the intrinsic importance that the seniors, especially Paculba have on the team.
“Not only do they have the postseason experience, but they got all of the home runs, RBIs and the batting averages to go with it this year,” Walton said. “They are what we are, our catalysts. They know how to get on base and drive in runs.”
Moving forward, the Gators are making their push to host a regional. Paculba will have a role in keeping the Gators primed for postseason play.
“Just keep doing what I am doing, hitting the ball in key situations, playing good defense and just keeping everyone in check in the dugout.”
Gator Country reporter Adam Pincus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/adamDpincus.