Five factors in Florida's march to WCWS
Published: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
OKLAHOMA CITY — When Florida's softball season started in early February, there weren't many people thinking this was a team that would be among the last eight standing in late May.
The Gators had lost more than half of their starting lineup and were terribly thin on the roster.
But thanks to newcomers who have thrived under pressure, Tim Walton's team has won 57 games and will play Thursday in the Women's College World Series.
Here are the five things that had to happen for Florida to be one of the nation's elite teams this season:
1. The freshmen had to come up big.
It seems like an understatement now because freshmen Taylore Fuller, Taylor Schwarz, Kelsey Stewart and Kirsti Merritt have become such a big part of this team. “I expected them to contribute,” Walton said. “I really didn't think they'd have to contribute so early. Every one of them did something well, but the way they have progressed is the reason we're where we are.”
2. The defense had to be strong.
Walton considers himself an offensive coach, but with so many young players, he went with defense over offense with this team. The offense has been almost a luxury. “I'm usually the guy who starts our best offensive players and find spots for them to play defense,” he said. “But we knew this was going to be a pitching and defense team.”
3. Hannah Rogers had to be great.
There isn't a team in Oklahoma City that doesn't have a great pitcher, and Rogers has done what the Gators needed her to do. “I don't know if she's better than she was last year,” Walton said, “but she's making better pitches in clutch situations.” Rogers has won 33 games this season.
4. They had to stay healthy.
With a thin roster, Florida could not afford any key injuries and they avoided them all season. “The young players got a lot of chances to play because of our lack of depth,” Walton said, “but if one of them was hurt, it would have been tough.”
5. They had to get stronger.
“And faster and tougher,” Walton said. “You can put together a program for that, but the players have to want to put the extra time in. They did it. That helped us avoid injuries, and it also helped with our stamina. It was kind of like 2008 when those girls played 75 games. It's a long season, and you've got to be strong to get through it.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.