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Top 25 Gator Softball Players of All Time

With a little help from UF head coach Tim Walton, longtime sports columnist Pat Dooley made his selections to celebrate the Gator softball program’s 25th year.

Tim Walton has experienced a lot of special moments, so many he can’t count them all. The dogpiles, the trophies and gloves being tossed into the air. Hugs to assistants and his family members.

Gosh, they come flooding back so fast, he has to brush them away. But here, as he prepares to coach his 16th season of Florida softball, he knows they will be swarming on the 25th anniversary of the start of Gator softball even if the pandemic will curtail some of the celebrations.

Funny thing, though. He and I spent an hour the other day talking about the greatest players ever to put on a uniform for the Gators, and he didn’t talk about one hit. Not one catch or one pitch or one slide.

“The thing I’m most at peace with as a coach is recruiting these young girls and seeing them become role models for other young women,” Walton said. “I get more joy out of who they grow up to be. That’s so much more rewarding.”

It’s one reason I enjoy covering softball. The postgame interviews are the best. You’re talking to mature young women, and you can see their lives after softball are going to be just fine.

It seems difficult to believe that this is the 25th year of what was once a fledgling program where every score was 1-0. Softball has become a huge sport at the college level, and once the SEC got serious about it, the conference started to make annual reservations at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Through the years, Gator Nation softball fans have been treated to a rare combination of student-athletes with grace and grit, the power to go yard and the power to help, love for each other and love for the less fortunate.

Walton has plenty of reasons to be proud of the legacy he has built, following Larry Ray starting the program and Karen Johns keeping it going. In this 25th year, I thought it appropriate to pick the 25 best players in school history. The most difficult part was not finding 25 but having to leave some off.

Here are my 25:

  1. Kayli Kvistad (BHS ’18, MA ’20), infielder: Although she was walked a lot (second most among Gators), she still managed to be sixth all-time in RBI.

  2. Stephanie Tofft (BSA ’14), infielder: Always seemed to come up with a hit that matters. Tofft finished her career fifth all-time in batting average.

  3. Aubree Munro (BSTel ’17), catcher: Munro was known for her defense and leadership, and was recently picked by an all-star panel as the best catcher to play in the College World Series.

  4. Ali Gardiner (BSAdv ’10), infielder: Hit .407 as a junior but fell into a bit of a slump as a senior. Then came her walk-off grand slam against Alabama to put Florida into the championship series in Oklahoma City.

  5. Kirsti Merritt (BS ’16), outfielder: Maybe the best to ever patrol centerfield. Also had 36 career homers and finished in the top 10 in RBI.

  6. Kristen Butler (BSSPM ’07), infielder: A versatile player who made life tough for on-base stealers. Named the SEC Player of the Year in 2006.

  7. Ashley Boone (BSTel ’02), infielder: One of the best first baseman in UF history, who was a three-time All-SEC selection.

  8. Nicole DeWitt (BS ’18), infielder: One of the best clutch players ever at Florida, whose 196 runs are the 6th most all-time. Top 10 in doubles and being hit by pitches.

  9. Mary Ratliff (BA ’09), outfielder: Steady in the outfield (one error as a senior), she kept getting better at the plate, hitting .296 as a senior and getting clutch RBI after clutch RBI.

  10. Delanie Gourley (BA ’17), pitcher: Find a statistic where Gourley did not finish in the top 10 all-time at UF. Go ahead. We’re waiting.

  11. Aleshia Ocasio (BA ’18), pitcher, outfielder: Ocasio delivered power at the plate and in the circle. Who else is in the top 10 in triples and pitching wins?

  12. Aja Paculba (BSAg ’12), infielder: Aja was nifty in the field and had a knack for getting on base. Second in runs scored and third in hits all-time.

  13. Chelsey Sakizzie (BSR ’99), pitcher: She transferred in and only played two seasons in the formative years of the program but still has the record for fewest walks allowed per game and won 60 games. Just dominant.

  14. Megan Bush (BSHED ’11), utility: Bush was known for her power as she finished second on the all-time UF home run list with 65 and had the most single season RBI with 80 in 2011.

  15. Kelsey Bruder (BSHED ’11), infielder: Bruder was a favorite among the Gators and for good reason. She was the 2011 SEC Player of the Year and has the most total bases ever in a season.

  16. Stephanie Brombacher (BSHED ’11, MPAS ’15), pitcher: Brombacher finished in the top 10 in ERA and lowest batting average by opponents, and her 97 wins is fourth all-time.

  17. Kim Waleszonia (BA ’09), outfielder: She was excellent in the field while also finishing in the top 10 in career batting average, career runs scored and career hits.

  18. Francesca Enea (BSA ’10), infielder: Enea’s power translated into 61 career home runs, and she finished second in career RBI.

  19. Michelle Moultrie (BABA ’12), outfielder: Her .443 average in 2011 is the highest ever for a Gator. Named the SEC Player of the Year in 2012.

  20. Hannah Rogers (BSR ’14), pitcher: Led Florida to its first national title in 2014 and was named MVP of the Women’s College World Series and also SEC Female Athlete of the Year.

  21. Kelsey Stewart (BSTel ’16), infielder: Let’s see, she has more career hits than anybody else, more runs, more triples and more stolen bases. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, the magic act she used to play with her glove.

  22. Kelly Barnhill (BSPR ’19), pitcher: She came in with a lot of hype (like the time she struck out all 21 batters in high school) and certainly lived up to it, leaving Florida with the most strikeouts ever.

  23. Amanda Lorenz (2016-19 ), outfield, first base: I think anybody who ever watched her play will miss her smile and her ability to dominate games to the point that nobody wanted to pitch to her. The only Florida player to have a career batting average over .400.

  24. Lauren Haeger (2012-15), pitcher, first base: You could make an argument for the player that TV talking heads compared several times to Babe Ruth. Haeger led UF to two straight national titles and always seemed to do whatever was necessary to win the game, whether it was a big home run or a huge strikeout in the circle.

  25. Stacey Nelson (BA ’09), pitcher: To me, the sign of true greatness is when a player hoists a team on his or her shoulders and takes them to a place they have never been before. Like to the World Series. Nelson still has the record for lowest career ERA and most wins at UF. She carried the ladies to Oklahoma City for the first time in 2008.