“Gators Elite Program With Better Days Ahead” Written By Bill Plummer
OKLAHOMA CITY — Florida was a solid softball program before it won back-to-back NCAA titles. Now it's an elite program and certainly the second title has solidified the program.
Florida joins UCLA and Arizona as the only programs ever to go back-to-back.
“It’s hard to do,” UF athletic director Jeremy Foley beamed during the post-game celebration after the Gators had defeated Michigan, 4-1. “These girls came here as the No. 1 seed and with a target on their backs. Obviously, Michigan is a great team. I mean, every time I looked up on the scoreboard someone was hitting .400 with like 20 homers and 80 RBI.”
Michigan entered the WCWS with a 28-game win streak and obviously was one of the top two teams in the field of eight. The other top team was Florida in a well balanced field of teams.
But there was a difference and as it often happens that difference was in the circle where Lauren Haeger stood.
Haeger was 4-1 in the World Series with an ERA of 1.18. Her overall NCAA Tournament record was 8-1 with an astounding 0.65 considering the emphasis on offense in the last few years.
“Every team that wins a national championship has someone like that,” Foley said. “Everything just kept falling on her shoulders and she just accepted the responsibility. Lauren Haeger has the heart of a champion.”
Besides being the difference on the mound, Haeger was a threat at-bat, hitting .433 in the tournament and .571 in Oklahoma City. She finished the year .347 with 19 homers and 71 RBI.
Haeger is one of the few athletes in Division One that is a double-threat and replacing her will be difficult let alone impossible. UCLA was in the same situation when the total package Lisa Fernandez graduated. She's now coaching first base for the Bruins.
Florida will try for a three-peat next year and it appears the Gators will have a good chance at making it a three peat considering the nation's No. 1 pitching prospect, Kelly Barnhill, who hurled 22 no-hitters in her first three years of high school softball, and No. 2 prospect Amanda Lorenz will be coming to Gainesville, Fla. And it won't be for a vacation either.
Head coach Tim Walton completed his tenth year and during that time he has lost only 121 games while winning 552 for a winning percentage of .829. Including three years at Wichita State Walton's career winning percentage is .785.
Who knows what Walton and the Gators will do in the next decade, but for now they are atop Division One softball and better days appear on the horizon.
|Bill Plummer A graduate of Indiana University, Ind. Bill has been involved in softball for more than four decades. For 30years he was a fixture at the ASA National Office as a communications coordinator, manager of the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame and historian. In addition, he also served as the editor of the ASA official newsletter, The Inside Pitch, and as the Trade Show Manager. He has written widely about the sport and has contributed to 14 books. In 2009, he authored “The Game America Plays.” In 2012, he co-authored “Best of the Best-Women’s Fastpitch.” In 2014, ” A Series of Their Own. The History of the Women's College World Series.” He has been elected to five halls of fame, including the ASA National. In 1996, he served as the Information Manager for the debut of softball in the Olympics.|
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