Florida softball in the World Series is just standard operating procedure | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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There’s an unwritten mission statement on the wall at every Florida sports facility. It’s called the “Gator Standard,” and it’s odd in a couple of ways.

It has no set definition. And whatever it is, you hear it most when teams are failing to live up to it.

It was certainly echoing through Tim Walton’s ears about a month ago. The Florida softball program he’d built had become a go-to example of the Gator Standard, but this year’s team was barely breaking even in SEC play.

Walton sort of chuckled about that Wednesday as he talked to reporters in the last place a lot of people thought they’d be.

“This is a down year for the Gators,” he said, “and here we are in Oklahoma City.”

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11th trip to WCWS with Tim Walton

Florida coach Tim Walton fist bumps with players Emily Wilkie and Cheyenne Lindsey during a March game in Gainesville.

That's the site of the Women’s College World Series, aka Gator Standard City. It’s the 11th time in 15 seasons Walton has taken a team to Oklahoma City.

Making it there has pretty much become the definition of “Gator Standard” for his sport. The term is not so precise in others, though fans seem to know it when they see it.

Just ask Dan Mullen, who came to Gainesville preaching about “Gator Standard” and had it relentlessly thrown back in his face when Florida could barely meet the Vanderbilt Standard.

So what’s a non-standard softball team like UF doing in a place like OKC?

Walton rattled off a list of reasons Thursday. Players like Skylar Wallace, Charla Echols, Kendra Falby and Hannah Adams. He threw in the inevitable "team" word. 

“The chemistry on the field,” Walton said. “The chemistry in our work ethic and just the constant ability to communicate with each other the right way.”

He also pointed out that — despite what critics were saying in late April— this team is pretty darned good. A major problem back then was players had let themselves become mental prisoners of the Gator Standard.

They knew they weren’t living up to it.

“At times,” Adams said, “the expectations can get to you.”

It wasn’t as simple as relaxing, maturing and letting their talent take over, though that’s part of the story. It was also a case of Adams missing 14 games with a hand injury.

She’s a fifth-year senior and a rock at second base. Her return a couple of weeks ago allowed Walton to fully pencil in a lineup that’s pretty good at everything.

“We talk about our power,” he said. “We talk about our speed. We talk about our defense.”

Speed is what most people are talking about. The Gators have stolen 131 bases. Wallace and Falby have combined to steal 87 bases in 95 attempts.

Wallace sat out last season after transferring from Alabama. She hated it, but she’s taken a year’s worth of frustration out on opponents. She’s batting .407 with 12 doubles, eight home runs and all those steals while playing just about every infield position.

“Skylar had probably one of the best seasons in Division I softball history,” Walton said.

Gators mount super comeback on the road

The sub-standard regular season meant Florida had to go on the road for a Super Regional last week. That was a first for a Walton team, and the Gators seemed to enjoy it. After losing the opener to Virginia Tech, they outscored the Hokies 19-2 to take the next two games.

“To be able to handle the adversity and the road travel and all the fun things that go with being on the road, this is an exciting time for us,” Walton said.

It also helps that nobody expects the 14th-seeded Gators to win the program’s third national championship. This year’s event is supposed to be a mere formality for Oklahoma, which has become softball’s version of the 1927 Yankees.

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The Sooners are a ridiculous 54-2. But they are not in Florida’s four-team bracket, so the Gators won’t have to deal with them for a few days.

That’s assuming UF even gets out of its bracket, which is foolish. But no more foolish than thinking a month ago that this was a lost season.

“It’s been a different journey,” Walton said.

And look where it’s ended up. Not bad for a down year by Gator standards.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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