GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Looks like the Florida softball team has some of its swagger back just in time to possibly save its season.
One day after a listless performance in a 2-1 loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the wake of the indefinite suspensions of three starters, the Gators rebounded with routs of Central Florida and Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday to remain alive in the NCAA Gainesville Regional. Sixth-ranked UF (48-12), the overall No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, must beat South Florida twice on Sunday to advance to next weekend’s Super Regional.
Florida hit six home runs in its two victories. Catcher Kelsey Horton hit two in UF's 6-2 victory over Florida Gulf Coast and first baseman Lauren Haeger hit two in the Gators’ victory over Central Florida earlier in the day.
"It was nice to see us get out there and play some softball and just look like we’re having fun," UF coach Tim Walton said. "Lot of high-fives, lot of smiles.
"Definitely a little bit more confident than yesterday and definitely looked like we were playing a little bit more comfortable as well."
Left fielder Briana Little drove in two runs against Central Florida and third baseman Samantha Holle hit her first homer of the season against Florida Gulf Coast. They are among the players who must help fill the void left by the suspensions of shortstop Cheyenne Coyle, freshman third baseman Sami Fagan, and sophomore outfielder Kasey Fagan. Walton announced Friday those three would not be with the team the rest of the season but would not elaborate.
The suspensions rocked the Gators, and they managed just five hits in a 2-1 loss to Florida Gulf Coast on Friday -- but they showed Saturday they’ve recovered.
"I went home (Friday) night and got a good night’s sleep and came back ready to play this morning," Horton said. "I felt great stepping on the field, and I think every one of my teammates felt the same way."
While the suspensions shorten the bench and make it tougher for the Gators to advance to the Women’s College World Series for a fifth consecutive season, they have also motivated the team, Holle said.
"I think after what happened it definitely got our team together a little bit more, just to help each other out and keeping us confident and stuff," she said.
It was noticeable, Central Florida coach Renee Luers-Gillispie said.
"Right now they’re going through a lot of things that Tim is dealing with, and that’s not easy," she said. "They looked better today than they did (Friday). That confidence is coming back a little bit."