After game two of the Women’s College World Series, coach Tim Walton was asked about the fight and competitiveness his team exhibited against Oklahoma.
“I think to get to this point,” Walton said, “it takes a special group of players that really has a drive for their own, not perfection, but greatness.”
Despite falling two wins short of a national championship against the Sooners, that desire to be great emanated from the Florida softball team all season long.
It stemmed from its 2017 team motto: “live the dash.” The mantra was implemented at the beginning of the season and served as a guideline for the group during its journey that started four months ago and came to a close on Tuesday.
“Living the dash is our motto,” junior utility player Aleshia Ocasio said in February. “Come in every day and give your best attitude, give your best effort and live the Gator standard.”
The 2017 softball season for Florida, which ended with a record of 58-10, was nothing short of that standard.
The magic began in February when the team opened its schedule with a dominant 15-1 start, outscoring its opponents 97-12 over that stretch.
The season then moved on to SEC play, where UF competed against some of the top softball programs in the nation. Entering the postseason, 10 SEC schools sat in the NCAA Top 25 rankings. And throughout league play, the Gators displayed total authority.
Florida won every series it played against SEC opponents in 2017, securing its third consecutive crown as conference regular season champs.
But its most competitive games of the regular season came against Florida State. In the first contest between the in-state rivals, Florida took down then-No. 1 FSU in the bottom of the seventh off a game-winning single from junior Kayli Kvistad to score the lone run of the evening.
The following game took 11 innings to complete before the Seminoles grasped the victory on a walk-off home run.
With the regular season serving as an overall success for Florida, its pitching staff stood front and center as a key contributor.
Sophomore Kelly Barnhill was the recipient of the 2017 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year, sporting the top ERA in the country at 0.51. Under her watch, she allowed just 22 runs all season and threw 359 strikeouts.
And then there was Delanie Gourley. The senior received 2017 NFCA First Team All-American honors and ended her career with a 1.35 ERA. She was also named to the Second Team Senior Class Award, which highlighted her softball career, her character in the classroom and her contributions to the Gainesville community.
This year also marked the Gators eighth trip in the last 10 years to the Women’s College World Series. Victories against Texas A&M, LSU and Washington increased UF’s win total at Oklahoma City up to 13, the most of any program.
Looking ahead, Gourley, Justine McLean and Chelsea Herndon are the only graduates from this year’s group.
McLean had 55 hits her senior year, while Herndon hammered a home run in the final game against Oklahoma.
Returning for Florida, it will still have the talents of Barnhill and Amanda Lorenz on its roster. Lorenz, a rising junior, had the second most RBIs on the team this season at 46.
Next year will also include six new freshmen on the field, including shortstop Hannah Adams. According to FloSoftball, Adams is rated as the No. 10 player in the country. Five of UF’s six incoming freshmen are ranked in the top 100.
And while the Gators may have a lot to look forward to in the future, the bond exhibited by each player in 2017 will never be forgotten.
“[The bond] is natural and it doesn’t come easy,” Gourley said in April. “So when it does, it’s special. It’s recognized. You can feel it.”
A video from Floridagators.com contributed to this report.