In the season opener against Illinois State, junior catcher Janell Wheaton totalled two hits in three at-bats. But over the next 15 games, Wheaton only mustered two hits, and at one point in the season her batting average dipped under .100.
Something changed during the Judi Garman Classic in California.
In her eight outings since, Wheaton has been dangerous, earning 10 hits for the Gators. And after Tuesday, that total includes a grand slam against North Dakota State in a mid-week 13-0 walloping delivered by the Gators.
“I thought the confidence went away from her a little bit,” Florida coach Tim Walton said.
“I definitely could see that Janell is gaining her confidence.”
With the victory, Florida (23-1, 2-0 SEC) has now shut out 16 of its 24 opponents and is on a 15-game winning streak.
The scoring started in a hurry in the bottom of the second due to early mistakes by NDSU (10-15).
Two hit batters by Bison sophomore pitcher Jacquelyn Sertic and a sacrifice hit by junior Aleshia Ocasio left runners on second and third. An error then allowed senior outfielder Chelsea Herndon to bring the two runners home, giving the Gators an early lead.
In the following inning, a double to left field from junior second baseman Nicole DeWitt scored Kayli Kvistad to extend the lead to 3-0.
But the fourth inning was when Florida wreaked havoc. The Gators scored 10 runs in the inning, starting with the grand slam by Wheaton.
“After the first at-bat, I was a little mad at myself for not being as aggressive as I should be,” Wheaton said. “Seeing a ball like that, it’s awesome. There’s no better feeling.”
Following Wheaton's slam, Aleshia Ocasio used a two-RBI single to get on base, and on the next at-bat, a three-run shot by Herndon brought the lead to double digits at 12-0.
Florida wasn’t done there. A few batters later, Wheaton, who started off the scoring in the inning, ended the day's tally with an RBI single that gave the Gators a comfortable 13-0 cushion.
Florida’s pitching, meanwhile, was split between Ocasio and freshman Katie Chronister, who made her fifth appearance of the year.
After Ocasio pitched three innings, gave up three hits and struck out three batters, Chronister was tasked with the save.
The freshman went to work, not allowing any hits for the 10 batters she faced over the course of two innings.
The win got the Gainesville native her second save on the year.
Overall, the Gators played a well-balanced game on offense and defense. The offensive power from Wheaton and Herndon, who combined to go 6-for-7 and earn 10 RBIs, showcased the versatility of Florida’s offense.
“We’re only gonna be as good as whoever hits behind Kayli Kvistad, and in that situation, I think they had nice at-bats,” Walton said.
The Gators now get a day of rest before hitting the road for an SEC battle with the South Carolina Gamecocks, which will kick off seven straight weekend series against SEC opponents.
“It’s almost some momentum going into South Carolina,” Herndon said of the win.
“Everyone had good at-bats so they can carry that into the next weekend feeling a bit more confident.”
Follow Skyler Lebron on Twitter at @SkylerLebron, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janell Wheaton notched a walk-off walk to seal the game for the Gators early Friday morning.