"It just looked like we were having fun—a lot of high fives, smiles, nice plays and big hits," Florida head coach Tim Walton said. "I couldn't be more proud of our effort here today."
Walton announced after Friday's loss to FGCU that shortstop Cheyenne Coyle, right fielder Kasey Fagan and third baseman Sami Fagan wouldn't be with the team for the rest of the season. The Fagans' father told the Gainesville Sun that the three wouldn't be returning to the team next season.
With the distractions of losing three starting players looming in their minds, the Gators dropped the game on Friday and gave FGCU the athletic program's first postseason win in Division One play.
The focus and energy was noticeably better from the first pitch on Saturday.
"Yesterday was a hard day for all of us," freshman pitcher/first baseman Lauren Haeger said. "Today was really good with how we came out. We were all really excited to play. We didn't want our season to end like that."
There was also Michelle Moultrie. The Florida players didn't want the senior's career to end with an upset loss, so they rallied around her. Moultrie rewarded the Gators by going 5-7 with two runs scored and one RBI. She also threw out a runner at the plate late in the second game.
The tough situations rallied the team and made them a closer unit on Saturday.
"After what happened, it definitely brought team together a little more to help each other out with our emotions, keep us confident and have our backs," third baseman Samantha Holle said.
The Gators scored nine of their 13 runs on home runs. The biggest key for Florida was leading every inning. There wasn't a temptation to think about what would happen if the team lost or the national upset that would happen.
The leads also helped Florida's swings improve. The offense was able to relax with the lead and develop the power that has been present all season.
"We had the lead in all those games," Walton said. "The lead changes the swings—I don't care what you do and how you do it in this game. If you've got a lead, it's a lot easier to swing the bat."
Haeger hit three of those home runs—two against UCF and one against FGCU. She also picked up the win on the mound for her performance against FGCU.
"I know that if I swing the bat, good things will happen," she said.
They did on Saturday.
The challenge for Walton now becomes managing the team the rest of the season, however long that will be, with such a short bench. When rosters were announced before the game, the P.A. announcer ran through the two Florida bench players before naming the rest of the players in the starting lineup.
There isn't much margin for error. Any injuries would handicap the roster, and Walton had some scary moments on Saturday.
"You just pray that nobody gets hurt," Walton said with a laugh. "(Catcher) Kelsey (Horton) took a foul ball today and everybody kind of looked at me—I hadn't even thought who would catch next."
The challenge on Sunday begins at 1 p.m. Florida has to win back-to-back games over USF to advance and host a Super Regional next weekend. If USF wins one of the first two games, the Bulls will advance to next weekend's final 16 teams and play for a spot in the College World Series.
"They're a good team," Haeger said. "They have really solid hitters and a good pitching staff. We're going to have to go out there and play hard, making sure we swing at good pitches."