SOFTBALL: Gators off to Clearwater Tourney

Losing a team captain who is also a school record holder is never easy but for Coach Karen Johns and the Florida women's softball team (2-0), unity and sunshine could mix together to help compensate for the loss.

The Gators play 20 out of their first 25 games in the state of Florida, including a trip to Clearwater this weekend for the Clearwater Invitational against Oklahoma, Louisville, Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State. The Gators will be going against top flight compensation without the graduated Jenny Gladding, the all-time UF season record holder for strikeouts in a single season (285). Gladding believes her team will be able to compensate for such a huge loss because of the hard working group that she says is truly united and ready to win.

"This is as close knit group as we've had and they are willing to openly communicate with each other and work through the ups and downs that occur," Johns said. "You're going to see a team that is very well bonded."

Replacing Gladding is not a simple task but the Gators are planning to rebound with a young talented pitching staff that has game experience. Sophomore Stacey Stevens is emerging into the ace role after finishing her freshman year with a 14-11 record and a 2.28 ERA.

"It's difficult to replace her [Gladding] because she was at such a high level when she left us," Johns said. "Stacey is emerging into that role and she got a lot of good experience last year when Jenny went down, but she has really matured."

This past weekend, the Gators won both games of a double header behind the power of senior pitchers Mandy Schuerman and Amanda Knowles.

Johns will be welcome several new faces to the team this year and one that is sure to make an immediate impact is third baseman Stacie Pestrak. Pestrak, who transferred from Santa Fe Community College and is already penciled in at starter, showed speed with two stolen bases and a great glove last weekend.

"Stacie transferred in and is going to be our lead off hitter this year," Johns said. "She has great speed, great power and is just an exciting player who plays with a lot of passion and the fans are going to love watching her."

Although the Gators opened up with two wins, the team still has plenty of work to do. Six errors in two games is unacceptable, said Johns.

"We are really working on correcting our defensive alignment and dealing with some injuries we've had," she said. "We will be cutting down on the errors because that was one of the true lone negatives that came out of last weekend."

UF will play Appalachian State Friday at 12 p.m. as the first part of their doubleheader. They begin their first home stand one week from Friday in the GRU Classic.

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