#1 Florida Softball 2014 Preview

Florida Gators

Overall Rank: #1
Conference Rank: #1 SEC
#1 Florida Softball 2014 Preview
Florida Team Page


The Florida Gators top our pre-season poll, checking in at number one, and for good reason. Failing to reach even the Super Regionals in 2012, the Orange and Blue stormed back with renewed focus last year by winning 58 games against just 9 losses. Winning the SEC regular season with a conference mark of 18-6, the Gators balanced power and speed, with Coach Tim Walton’s “Let ‘er rip” offensive philosophy producing 84 home runs, 87 doubles, 22 triples and an SEC-best 433 runs scored. That same attitude also yielded 421 strikeouts, but was countered by 416 free passes and 112 stolen bases (129 attempts) to go with a .979 fielding percentage on defense. Florida captured the SEC Tournament title, and at #2 nationally, breezed through the Gainesville Regional and home Super Regional with a 5-0 record. In Oklahoma City, a hard-fought 9-8 victory over Nebraska was the lone bright spot in between a 9-2 drubbing by nemesis Tennessee and a 3-0 shutout loss to Blair Luna and the Texas Longhorns, sending the Gators home to start preparations for a title run in 2014.

2013: 58-9, 18-6
2013 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Tim Walton, 8th year

Field Players:
Designated player Kelsey Horton will be missed, but otherwise the cupboard is full. Horton’s absence should be offset with a healthy Bailey Castro (3B, DP) who tallied six long balls and 21 RBIs in just 88 at bats. The Gators had several outstanding freshmen last year, led by second baseman and leadoff hitter Kelsey Stewart setting the table with a .378 average and 36 steals. Centerfielder Kristi Merritt occupied the second spot in the order and added 21 thefts of her own, while Kaitlyn Medina is a stalwart at shortstop and Brianna Little will once again be found in the outfield. Stephanie Tofft is now a senior and hit .332 in 196 at bats while anchoring third base. Designated Player/Pitcher Lauren Haeger (Junior, Top 50 Watch List) and left fielder Jessica Damico hit cleanup and sixth, respectively and drove in a combined 91 runs, with Haeger swatting 70 of those on the strength of 18 long balls. Taylore Fuller and Aubree Munro will likely share the catching gear again, and Taylor Schwartz plays first base. Walton adds depth and injury insurance along with transfer Frankie Martinez (Daytona State) and freshmen Justine McLean and Chelsea Herndon.

Senior Hannah Rogers leads the band that combined for a team ERA of 1.83 and they all return. Rogers struck out 243 of the opposition with 11 shutouts while holding batters to a .199 batting average. She went 33-7, while Junior Lauren Haeger proved to be a force on her own, picking up 16 wins against just 2 losses and 119 strikeouts in 128.1 innings. Rogers’ 270.2 innings carried the load, but Alyssa Bach chipped in a 9-0 record in just under 60 innings. Highly touted lefthander Delanie Gourley (#37 among incoming preps) will be an import from California (one of Coach Walton’s favorite hotbeds) and righty Lindsay Spatola from nearby Jacksonville round out the impressive and deep staff.

Who to Watch:
The entire Florida Gator team. Pitching is deep and strong with lots of familiar faces, and familiarity in the field amongst teammates should produce a polished defense, perhaps even better than their collective .979 fielding percentage last year. This is a fast team who likes to push the envelope. The offense will score runs (seemingly at will sometimes,) and don’t discount that the Gator logo wins a number of games before the opponents see the first pitch.

Final Projection:
Every year there are teams that have to rebuild. Others have to reload. “The Waltons,” (sans only Horton) might as well be extending 2013, with every impact player running from the dugout to a familiar position.  Expect the Gators to break out of the gate on fire-the last five Februarys have produced a 73-5 record-and not look back. Florida will be battle-tested with tough road series at Tennessee, A&M, LSU and Arkansas, so 60 wins will be a challenge, but they will certainly be ready for the postseason. Health is always a concern for any team, but barring injury, the 2014 Gator Chomp should devour enough wins where an NCAA tournament bid is a given, a Super Regional is expected, and a National Title is not only in sight, it is not far from a lock bet.

Projected Postseason: NCAA Softball Tournament

Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Kelsey Stewart, SS, 238
Hits: Kelsey Stewart, SS, 90
Home Runs: Lauren Haeger, DP/P, 18
RBIs: Lauren Haeger, DP/P, 70
Runs: Kelsey Stewart, SS, 62
Stolen Bases: Kelsey Stewart, SS, 36

Wins: Hannah Rogers, 33
Innings Pitched: Hannah Rogers, 270.2
Strikeouts: Hannah Rogers, 243
Saves: Hannah Rogers, 5

Madness 2014 NPF Draft Rankings:
#19 Hannah Rogers, P

Madness 2014 Softball Recruit Rankings:
#37 Delanie Gourley, LHP


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