"I felt it was important to give these kids an opportunity to play, an opportunity to be a difference maker in this game, but most importantly to show our respect for them and what they've done over there four year career," Walton said.
Seniors Mirelis Torres, Lindsay Norfleet and Laura Templeton all got their chance to shine in the Gators victory.
Junior Stacey Stevens got the start on the mound for the Gators and pitched four solid innings, allowing just four hits and no runs for her 20th win of the season.
The Gators got the only run they would need in the bottom of the fourth inning. Senior Kristen Butler was hit by a pitch and Alicia Spack was sent in to run for her. Torres laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Spack to second and senior Stacie Pestrak followed with a single to left center for the game's only run.
For Pestrak, staying patient at the plate paid off handsomely.
"I was trying to foul pitches off until I got the pitch I wanted to drive into the outfield and score," Pestrak said.
Stacey Nelson entered the game in the fifth to relieve Stevens and she pitched three hitless innings to seal the victory for the Gators. Nelson earned her fifth save of the year, a new Florida record.
"Pitching was the name of the game, they got a hit and we shut them down," Butler said. "Pitching was great they gave us pop ups and ground balls when we needed them and then the defense backed them up."
Walton pulled the Gator seniors one by one in the late innings even with the game on the line to let them be recognized by the crowd.
The Gators will now travel to compete in the SEC Tournament on Thursday in Athens, Georgia, where they will face the fourth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the first round. This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams this season with Florida holding a 2-1 advantage.
The Gators will not only try to win a championship in Athens but also secure a chance to host the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Just winning one game would greatly increase Florida's chances of hosting.
"You wouldn't think that one game would mean that much, but winning one game in the SEC tournament would be a huge complement when four out of the eight teams in the tournament are in the top 11," Walton said.
This year's senior class will be the first class in school history to make the NCAA Tournament all four years and the first time the Gators have strung together four 40-win seasons in school history. There is still one thing that has eluded the Gator seniors: a championship.
"We wanna come out with a ring on our finger," said Butler. "We want to have a championship. That's what the next couple of weeks are for and were definitely gonna be striving for a championship one way or the other. That's the only thing that's been missing from my Gator experience but I'm pretty sure we're gonna be completing that here in the next couple of weeks." G