Florida shows no weak spots in lineup

May, 30, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Megan Bush didn't know what pitch she hit Friday night. Opposing pitchers often don't know what hit them when they face Bush and the Gators.

Behind a one-hitter from Stacey Nelson and Bush's one big hit -- a solo home run deep into the left-field bleachers in the sixth inning -- Florida beat Michigan 1-0.

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Megan Bush
AP PhotoMegan Bush (No. 12) drove home the only run in Florida's win over Michigan on Friday night.

For the second Women's College World Series game in a row (and really the fourth game in a row, including a super regional against California), a Gators offense that averages nearly 6.6 runs per game produced considerably less than that but just enough to back up Nelson's brilliance.

And that's sort of the point. Florida's lineup is one giant fail-safe mechanism.

When all the parts are working, it's a juggernaut. When some parts malfunction, or get taken out of play by great pitchers such as Jordan Taylor and Nikki Nemitz, there are too many redundancies built into the system to ever allow for catastrophic hitting failure.

Consider Bush, the sophomore shortstop who was hitting eighth in the lineup when I first got a glimpse of this year's Gators at a tournament near Palm Springs in February (all she did from that spot was hit a three-run home run off an elite pitcher, Fresno State's Morgan Melloh, to turn a potentially tense game into a run-rule win). Coming off a big home run in Thursday's win against Arizona, Bush found herself hitting fifth against Michigan.

Nemitz said she thought she tipped off the changeup that Bush blasted, but the power-hitting infielder said she didn't really know what pitch it was -- she just saw it come in and swung as hard as she could to send it back the other way. Good as a freshman, when she hit 13 home runs and drove in 41 runs, Bush has been ever better this season. Her average is up nearly 80 points and her strikeout-to-walk ratio has been cut in half.

"I think more than anything, it's just the way she plays with confidence," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "Everybody always talks about the hole in her swing, and they talk about this and they talk about that. But when she swings with confidence -- I don't know what pitch it was either because the kids don't throw real, true changeups; they throw kind of a deviation from an off-speed pitch. When you see her hit and then get long -- I saw her get long, and when she gets that swing, it's going. It just her confidence, no question."

So why was Bush hitting seventh or eighth for so long before Friday night? Because where else was she going to hit? Her move up the lineup card against the Wolverines was part of a series of moves that landed Kristina Hilbreth in the No. 8 spot and Kim Waleszonia in the No. 9 spot. Hilbreth had one of the highest averages of any hitter in conference play and Waleszonia was a first-team all-conference player the past two seasons.

There simply aren't any weak spots in this lineup. And so even when opposing pitchers shut parts of it down for an extended period, someone, somewhere will come up with the necessary run production.

Has Walton ever faced a lineup as deep as the one he torments opposing coaches with?

"I'd have a hard time finding it," Walton said. "Tennessee might have had it a couple of years ago; Arizona always has a deep lineup; UCLA this year has a deep lineup. But to me, we've got some tough outs. We struck out nine times and, I think, eight [Thursday] night, but we've got some tough outs. Your first hit is coming from your eight-hole hitter; Kim gets a hit. I mean, we're pretty tough. We're pretty pleased with where we're at."

Which is one victory from a chance to play for the national championship.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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