'Two steps backwards, five steps forward': What we learned about Florida softball this year
In his final postgame press conference of the season, Florida softball's Tim Walton said it best.
"We took two steps backwards and five steps forward," Walton said when asked to reflect on the season.
Those steps backward, at the time, seemed catastrophic. In the moment, dropping the series to Alabama and being swept by Arkansas in the regular season stung. The pair of losses to Florida State and random loss to Florida Gulf Coast didn't feel great either.
But the Gators went some place that those four aforementioned teams did not: the Women's College World Series.
"We made it a goal at the beginning of the year to make it back to the World Series and we worked really hard to do that, even at times when our season wasn’t looking so great," fifth-year second baseman Hannah Adams said. "But we will forget about that because we’re at the World Series now."
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Florida's season ending in Oklahoma City represents the five steps forward that Walton mentioned. And with those five steps, here are five end-of-season takeaways from Florida softball's 2022 campaign.
Five years with Hannah Adams will never be enough
Walton was asked about the impact Adams had on Florida's softball program after the Gators' season-ending and Adams' career-ending loss to UCLA on Sunday.
A long tug on a soda was required before he could answer.
"The next kid to wear No. 1 is going to have to be a special, special kid," Walton said.
For the last five seasons, a special player has worn No. 1.
Adams came by way of Hoschton, Georgia, in 2018 and immediately found herself in the starting lineup at second base. And that's where she spent every game of her five-year career, with the exception of the 13 games she missed this season due to a hand injury.
To put that into perspective, that's 271 games that Adams started. And in those 271 games, Adams only committed 11 errors throughout her career and had errorless seasons in her first and final year in the Orange and Blue.
"That’s one of the best college softball players I’ve ever been around," Walton said. "The personality and to do what she does with the leather is unbelievable."
Walton never really made it back around to answering the initial question. Instead, he continued to gush about Adams, who returned the favor when asked to reflect on her time at Florida.
"Coach Walton has been there since my freshman year. He’s turned me into the player and person I am today," Adams said. "I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him."
Lexie Delbrey proved she's an ace in the making
There aren't many coaches that would've tossed their freshman pitcher out to the rubber with so much on the line — especially when you have a fifth-year senior, a senior and a junior in the same bullpen.
But Walton did just that, not once but four times in the Gators' postseason run.
Facing elimination in Blacksburg on Saturday and Sunday, Florida freshman Lexie Delbrey got the nod to start for the Gators. The right-handed rookie also started Florida's first two games in Oklahoma City.
Walton and the Gators feel confident giving Delbrey the ball. And they should.
Through 111.1 innings of action in 2022, Delbrey maintained an ERA of 1.30 and improved significantly as the season progressed.
With a number of pitches in Delbrey's pocket and a ton of spin, a little spit shine to help her clean up the number of free passes will go a long way for she and the Gators moving forward.
Gators' roster will be just fine in 2023
Hannah Adams is just one of four players the Gators graduate this season.
Outfielder Cheyenne Lindsey and pitchers Natalie Lugo and Marissa Mesiemore also saw their careers end in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
While each of them played vital roles within the program during their time in Gainesville, the Gators are bringing up players that should be able to step right up in their absence.
Back in November, Walton and the Gators announced the addition of three signees in Kaila Pollard, Olivia Gigante and Sam Roe, who enrolled early and saw playing time this season.
Ranked as a top-five prospect by Extra Innings Softball, Pollard could be tasked with trying to fill the shoes of Adams as a middle infielder. The Riverside, California, native also could help produce on offense as she averaged .448 with nine home runs in her club season last fall.
Meanwhile, Gigante, who also hails from California, could also offer a boost to Florida's lineup. In her senior season at Patrick Henry, Gigante averaged .523 with 16 home runs and 58 RBIs.
Then, of course, you have the possibility of Walton flirting with the transfer portal — an area he's had success in as of late.
Purely speculative, but with six players choosing to transfer out of Alabama, Walton might be interested in a player or two that previously called Tuscaloosa home.
After all, the last transfer Florida got from Alabama was Skylar Wallace. And that worked out well for the Gators.
UF should secure Amanda Lorenz on staff
Very few likely remember what UF softball was like before Amanda Lorenz, who currently serves as a volunteer assistant coach under Walton.
The four-time All-American helped lead the Gators to three consecutive SEC regular season titles, back-to-back SEC tournament titles and three straight WCWS appearances during her time as a player at Florida.
Lorenz also was the program's second-highest drafted player after she was selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 National Pro Fastpitch Draft, which was absolutely deserved after a four-year college career that saw her bat a career average of .407, which is the program's top mark.
And after the Gators' exit from the WCWS, where they only mustered a combined five hits in their last two games, it seems Lorenz's knowledge might be of good use.
"It’s the same stuff we’ve dealt with the entire season," Walton said after being shutout by UCLA. "You run into a good pitcher, can’t really manufacture much… I thought overall it was a good approach, just not good enough."
Having season-long hitting troubles can only get you so far.
While suggesting coaching changes is a slippery slope considering none of us are there for the ins and outs of the operation, removing the "volunteer" tag from Amanda Lorenz's title just seems to make sense.
If Florida won't, it's only a matter of time until another program will.
Florida softball's ceiling is high
All season long part of the narrative has been how young the Gators' roster was, yet that didn't stop Florida from making its 11th WCWS in program history.
What does that say about the future and the state of the program? A lot.
Look at Kendra Falby's freshman season and Katie Kistler's sophomore season. Or the freshman pitcher started in two WCWS games. Freshman Reagan Walsh also showed a ton of potential from the designated player spot this season.
"I think we did a really good job of buying into the plan and buying into the preparation, building on the confidence, making good plays.," Walton said. "The one thing I look at this entire year, we were very resilient."
"Confidence" was a buzzword for Walton this season. At times, it lacked within the team and it showed.
But so long as this team continues to build on its confidence, the Gators oughta be fine.