Thursday, May 30, 2013

WCWS Team Profile: Florida Gators

How they got here: The Gators finished with a 49-7 regular-season record; won both the SEC regular season and tournament titles; breezed through their hosted regional 3-0; beat UAB 2-0, but both were hard-fought games.

Starting Nine: Florida's lineup of youngsters and role players is full of sometimes surprisingly consistent and hitters.

Kelsey Stewart, 2B (Came in and immediately made a huge impact; terrifically speedy; safely swiped thirty-six bases in thirty-nine tries; can turn a soft bloop down the line into extra bases in the blink of an eye; don't take your eye off of her for a moment.)
Kirsti Merritt, CF (Another well-rounded hitter who can to all fields and with both average and power; another great table-setter for the heart of the order; like Stewart, also has a tremendous amount of speed.)
Stephanie Tofft, 3B (A transfer from Northern Illinois; first year of collegiate career as a full-time starter at 3B; got a hit in exactly one-third of her official at-bats; hit eighteen doubles and also worked thirty-four walks; very consistent hitter.)
Lauren Haeger, DP (The biggest power bat in the Gator lineup; also carried the second-highest batting average on the Gator squad; led the team in all major power categories, as well as walks; .704 slugging percentage made her the only player to register a % over .581 on the team.)
Kelsey Horton, RF (Another power hitter; almost the backbone of the Gator lineup; not the absolute best hitter on the team, but almost of that straw-that-stirs-the-drink quality; a converted catcher.)
Taylor Schwarz, 1B (Another freshman who made an immediate impact on the Gators upon her arrival; became the every day first baseman and inserted into the heart of the batting order; hit nine home runs and three doubles, but possesses a tremendous amount of power; hit two home runs and brought in three runs in a game against Georgia in the SEC tournament.)
Brianna Little, LF (Appearances can be deceiving; easily one of the better power hitters for the Gators; anchors the bottom third of the order; respectable - but not great - average; drew twenty-seven walks, but also wore a pitch nineteen times.)
Taylore Fuller, C (One of two freshman catchers who have split time behind the plate; started just a few more games than Aubree Munro, but is usually subbed out for the last few innings of the game; not the best hitter, but was 9-10 on stolen base attempts; only made one field error and registered over 200 putouts.)
Katie Medina, SS (Again, not the best hitter, but came up clutch against UAB in game 1 of the Supers; provided the game-winning, walk-off hit to beat the Blazers; as a rule, not a great hitter, but that little tidbit showed she can definitely come through in a pinch, when absolutely necessary.)

What I see: I'll be the first to admit that I didn't expect Florida to reach nearly the level of success that they did this year. Definitely the scrappiest team in the tournament, Florida only has a couple of "superstars" in their batting order, but the entire lineup seems to be in a rotation as to whose turn it is to have a big game. It could be Tofft one day, Schwarz the next, and Fuller the day after that. Haeger and Stewart are virtual locks to record multi-hit games, even against the best of pitchers. Hannah Rogers is masterfully dominant in the circle, and opposing offenses will be hard-pressed to get a rally going -- or even a hit -- against her.

X-Factor: Haeger. An NFCA All-American first-team at-large selection, she's powerful with both her bat and her arm. Led the team in home runs and posted a 2.31 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .229. Rogers is fantastic and at her peak right now, but if she does get into some unforseen trouble, Haeger can not only spell her in the circle, but also provide some offensive insurance or catch-up runs. She's at her best under pressure and with runners on.

Who's up first: The Gators take on Tennessee Thursday afternoon. The two teams met up for an early-season series, which the Gators took 2-1.

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