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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Florida softball's new pitching staff finds early success

The Gators have recorded a 0.48 ERA in their first 17 games

Florida right-handed pitcher Ava Brown subbed in the fifth inning during the Gators’ 8-0 win over UIC, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Florida right-handed pitcher Ava Brown subbed in the fifth inning during the Gators’ 8-0 win over UIC, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.

During the 2023 season, the Gators softball pitching staff struggled. The staff had a 3.69 ERA, and the team faltered in SEC play, in part due to the pitching. The Gators ranked second-to-last in the category, ahead of Kentucky.

In June, the team decided to move on from former pitching coach Mike Bosch, who had been with the team since 2018.

To replace Bosch, Florida went with Chelsey Dobbins. Dobbins had been with the University of North Carolina for the past eight years.

This season under Dobbins, the staff has found success, recording a 0.48 ERA in the team’s first 17 games.

“Their success is all due in part to them, their hard work and their expectations of themselves,” Dobbins said.

Florida’s pitchers are all new, including three freshmen and a transfer graduate student. Dobbins said she came into an ideal situation of a completely new staff that isn’t familiar with the history of a former coach.

Despite UF’s rich history, Dobbins said she doesn’t feel any pressure and holds high expectations for the four girls.

“Walton has a standard of excellence that I have a lot of appreciation for,” she said. “It's nice to emulate that with the pitching staff and have the same expectations for them.”

Amongst the new pitching staff are freshmen Ava Brown, Keagan Rothrock, Olivia Miller and graduate transfer Mackenzie Wooten.

The hardest part for Dobbins has been teaching the freshmen how to pitch rather than throw because they are new to college-level expectations, she said. They found success throwing in travel softball, but each pitch matters when they consistently face strong teams.

“What I love is that they don’t know any different,” she said. “They know they’ve been great and want to come in and do the same thing.”

Dobbins said she’s fortunate to work with a group of girls who hold positive attitudes and are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.

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“They’re good kids who want to win,” Dobbins said. “If you tell them to jump, they’ll ask how high.”

Wooten stepped in as the older role model for the freshman since she holds college softball experience, Dobbins said.

“I've been playing college softball for five years now, but I still see myself getting better, which is super exciting,” Wooten said.

Although she is older than most of the team, Wooten said it adds less pressure knowing they’re all new to the Florida program and are constantly learning.

Wooten is currently in UF’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program and trying to be cautious about balancing school and sports, she said. Softball has become her fun relief away from school.

Wooten made her first appearance against Illinois State in the USF-Rawlings Invitational Feb. 10. With one out and a runner on first, she subbed in to close out the 12-1 win.

Head coach Tim Walton and Dobbins work together to make it the best scenario for the pitchers regardless of the personnel they will succeed with, Dobbins said.

“We don't expect them to be perfect, but we expect them to put us in situations in every game to win,” she said.

Wooten and the three freshmen have executed, helping lead the team to a strong 15-2 start to the season.

Rothrock, a right-handed pitcher, has recorded 65 strikeouts with a 0.83 ERA in eight games. She was named the SEC Freshman of the Week Feb. 19 after delivering 17 strikeouts in two complete-game victories at the Bubly Invitational.

“It’s pretty cool honestly,” she said. “I didn’t even know until one of the girls came in the bathroom and was like ‘Congrats,’ and I was like, ‘for what?’”

Rothrock said the biggest difference for her has been having to adjust to a big hitter in every at-bat, rather than the first four in the lineup.

Since the staff is new together, she said they’ve become close building off each other, and Wooten helped guide them through the learning curve.

“I think the pressure part is we are freshmen, and this is a whole new stage for us,” she said. “But then at the same time, it's not pressure because we are freshmen, and we've never done this before.”

Brown, who played with Rothrock growing up in Texas, said with so many new faces to the program, they’ve been able to create their own legacy.

“Being able to not have an expectation as a pitching staff and create a completely new environment [and] a new standard that we have for ourselves — I feel like it’s given us a lot more freedom,” she said.

Brown has recorded 19 strikeouts with a 0.22 ERA in six games. Not allowing age or grade to affect her is something they’ve focused on as a team, Brown said.

“We've been able to get rid of that gap and work together to show we need everybody,” she said. “It doesn't matter how old you are, it's what you bring to the table.”

Brown recorded her first home run as a Gator against South Florida in the USF-Rawlings Invitational. In the Gators’ doubleheader Feb. 22, Brown got her barrel to the inside part of the plate for her second home run of the season.

“It's so fun because everybody gets so excited for you, and then it makes it feel so worthwhile,” she said.

Building a relationship with the girls has become an important aspect for Brown. She said she knows she can let loose and be herself in a playful atmosphere as well as a serious one.

She said the goal is to win the Women’s College World Series, something Florida and head coach Tim Walton has done twice.

Left-handed pitcher Miller has the same goal.

In Game 1 of a doubleheader against Bethune Cookman in the Rawlings Invitational Feb. 11, Miller became the first freshman in program history to throw a perfect game.

Then, she did it again. On Feb. 24, in the T-Mobile Invitational, Miller threw another perfect game against Lafayette College.

“My glove was shaking,” she said. “You have to just go on the mound and do your thing, and I didn't even realize it. It was so weird.”

Additionally, Miller said the non-conference games have helped her get rid of the jitters and nerves, so she feels ready to go when SEC play begins.

“I don't care if it's in the dugout, a great teammate or on the field with strikeouts,” Miller said, “I just want to help out the team.”

The Florida pitchers will continue to play Feb. 29 as they head on the road to face the California State Fullerton Titans at 8 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

Contact Hailey Hurst at hhurst@alligator.org. Follow her on X @haileyjhurst.



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Hailey Hurst

Hailey Hurst is a second-year journalism major with a focus in sports media and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys going to the beach and cheering for Miami sports teams.


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