Gator softball coach Tim Walton makes all the right moves

Florida pitcher Hannah Rogers, left, celebrates with teammates Aubree Munro (1) and Kelsey Stewart, right, following the NCAA Women's College World Series softball tournament game in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. Florida defeated Alabama 6-3 and won the title. Credit: The Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 4:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 4:14 p.m.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Tim Walton thought he was the right man for the job. He told Jeremy Foley so in his cover letter applying to be the University of Florida's softball coach almost a decade ago.

"I understand the pressure it takes to be a coach at Florida," he said of his application to UF's athletics director. "We do have Olympians and we do win championships. It's expected."

Walton capped his ninth season with Florida's first softball national championship. The Gators swept two games from Alabama in the Women's College World Series best-of-three finals, winning 6-3 on Tuesday night to capture the title and finish with a 55-12 record.

"I never in a million years thought I would end up at Florida let alone in a national championship series, and getting to end our last game on a win is just an amazing feeling," third baseman Stephanie Tofft said.

Walton made a decision that even he admitted was "gutsy and bold" in going with junior Lauren Haeger to start Tuesday's game in the pitcher's circle rather than going with senior ace Hannah Rogers, who had been nearly untouchable in pitching UF through the NCAA tournament. Walton went with the percentages, which told him that Rogers had not been as effective all season when pitching to the same team on back-to-back days. He started with Haeger, turned to freshman Delanie Gourley in middle relief and, finally, brought in Rogers to close the show.

"I honestly didn't sleep very well last night," Walton said after the game, "not that I don't have trust and faith in Lauren and Delanie. But Hannah was on fire and to take her out of (starting) this game, I know it was gutsy and bold."

Florida looked like the best team in the country through its pre-conference schedule, but had some tough weekends in Southeastern Conference play. The Gators were bounced from the SEC tournament in a one-and-done performance, then transformed themselves into a dominant force in the postseason: UF finished with the lowest earned run average (1.27) and highest batting average (.331) at the World Series.

UF players, before the season, set a goal to win it all.

"We had our lows in our season," Haeger said, "and we lost the grip on that goal. But it all worked out."

In the end, it was fitting that Walton elected to pitch by committee rather than just ride Rogers' hot hand.

"We don't have a superstar on our team," Walton said. "We have a bunch of players that do their job."

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