In Sunday’s series finale with No. 7 Alabama, the No. 5 Florida softball team (40-8, 15-7 SEC) had a different approach it wanted to try out on the offensive end.
Instead of batting in the order the Gators have played in most of the season, head coach Tim Walton lined up Kelsey Bruder in the second spot, followed by Megan Bush, Brittany Schutte and Aja Paculba, with Michelle Moultrie still leading off.
The change is something head coach Tim Walton said he has been contemplating about all season as the goal is to give Moultrie more opportunities to get from first to third after reaching base.
Moving Bruder up to the second spot paid dividends Sunday as the senior left fielder had two clutch hits that put the Gators on the board and then clinched the win against the Crimson Tide.
As for Bush, Schutte and Paculba, the only benefit to the change came when Alabama pitcher Jackie Traina intentionally walked Bush to load the bases and then hit Schutte with a pitch that drove in the game-tying run in the eighth. The trio combined to go hitless in 10 at-bats against Traina and Kelsi Dunne with six strikeouts.
But no player had a worse weekend against the Tide than Paculba.
The second baseman went 0-12 from the plate, and had two opportunities to do what Bruder did and have the game-winning hits.
Paculba also had a defensive miscue in Sunday’s game that would have cleared the Gators from any harm done in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, but she missed a ground ball that gave the Tide a 2-0 lead.
On Thursday, the senior said her performance against Alabama stemmed from trying to force the issue instead of playing like she normally does.
“I think it was a little bit of me pushing a little bit too much and putting too much pressure on myself,” she said. “Obviously, Alabama is a great team, and you want to perform in clutch situations and just in the big games, and I think put a little bit more emphasis in my performance than I usually do.”
In addition to the added pressure, Walton said his decision to drop Paculba from second to fifth in the order was because she felt “handcuffed” when Moultrie gets on base.
“I think what he meant by that was I was trying so hard to get her over into scoring position that I was taking myself out of my game, and not trying to just get on base,” Paculba said.
The Gators will need Paculba’s bat this weekend in South Carolina as the Gamecocks (25-24, 6-16 SEC) are also riding some momentum after winning against No. 18 Kentucky in walk-off fashion on Sunday.
Freshman pitcher Julie Sarratt (8-7, 2.89 ERA) threw a complete game against the Wildcats and drove in the game-winning run that prevented a weekend sweep and sealed her second straight SEC Freshman of the Week honor.
Bruder, who won SEC Player of the Week and USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Week Honors this week, said she would love to have a sweep the Gamecocks to be in position for another league title.
“I expect a lot of hitting out of us,” she said Tuesday. “I’m sure our pitchers will stay strong as they have been. We’ve got a couple of things to tighten up on defense this week in practice. We’ll get it right, and we’ll be ready for them.”
During practice this week, Paculba said she worked on trying to get her timing right through plenty of batting practice.
Translating that work in practice into the games may come easier for the senior with the move down the order.
“The two-hole and the five-hole are completely different spots so I think that moving me down a little bit can help me just relax, and let me do what I know how to do,” she said.
Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.