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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two things tend toward brutal in early June in Oklahoma City. One is the weather.
The other is the math.
|Stephanie Brombacher and the Gators seniors end their careers as one of the most successful classes in NCAA history.|
Over the course of four seasons, Florida's senior class accumulated 4 percent of its total wins during the Women's College World Series. That same group took 27 percent of its losses -- better than one of every four -- in Oklahoma City.
So it is that a class that helped put Florida softball on the map as a national power and then proved the program had staying power in taking the Gators to four consecutive World Series appearances, a first for any SEC program, exits with so much success but such fresh disappointment after being swept by Arizona State in the best-of-three championship series. In the SEC's continued pursuit of a first national championship in softball, the Gators now become the conference's first team to try and fail twice in the final round, adding this season's loss to the 2009 sweep at the hands of Danielle Lawrie and Washington.
In some ways, it leaves the program as a victim of its own success. Only a select few programs are good enough to be measured by championships. But it's a harsh life at the top.
"We've only lost 33 games in four years, so that needs to be written about, as opposed to we can't win the national championship, been here twice, we can't get it done," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "We've been here four times in the World Series. The team only lost 33 games in four years [and won 238]. That's one heck of a program, one heck of a [senior] class, arguably one of the best in NCAA history, if you go down and look at all the awards they've won.
"One thing they didn't win was the big one, and of course, that's what everybody talks about. I'm very proud of what these kids have done, and how much they've sacrificed to get here where they're at."
The scale of defeat in the championship series, losing by scores of 14-4 and 7-2, was not reflective of the team's overall body of work. More than the previous three trips to the World Series, this one came by way of both talent and resiliency. This was a very good roster, but it was a team that started two freshmen on the left side of the infield and didn't have senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher at her best physically for essentially the entire season.
It was a team whose flaws only served to highlight its ability to overcome, most notably after the Gators lost six in a row in SEC play in late March and early April.
"I think midseason a lot of people doubted us when we had that little slump," Brombacher said. "And to come back from that, it just shows what kind of heart this team has. And then when we had to come back and beat Alabama twice [on Sunday], a lot of people doubted us then. This team has a lot of fight, and that's just a tribute to the players, the coaches, to the whole organization, that if we're down we're going to come back."
All of which made this Gators team easy to respect, which is why what happened after Game 1 of the championship series was that much more puzzling. Florida was clearly collectively upset about the work of home plate umpire Chris Drumm during that game, with apparent video justification when it came to a missed hit-by-pitch sustained by Tiffany DeFelice in the first inning and quite possibly also in the context of Drumm's strike zone. But nobody on either side came out looking better for the postgame criticism from players, particularly Kelsey Bruder, that boiled down to questioning an umpire's credibility. And candor aside, it was a distraction the team didn't need. As was the case in 2009 against Washington, all of Florida's momentum vanished in the blink of an eye.
The Gators gave us a new star this season in junior Michelle Moultrie, the outfielder who was so unstoppable in the World Series that even in defeat, she shared the award for Most Outstanding Player with Arizona State freshman pitcher Dallas Escobedo. Together with outfielder Brittany Schutte and shortstop Cheyenne Coyle, the Gators already have a foundation of three potential All-American position players to begin moving forward without Bruder, Megan Bush, Aja Paculba and Tiffany DeFelice. And as Brombacher also moves on, they found a pitcher, in freshman Hannah Rogers, who drew high marks for handling adversity.
Those who follow will be fortunate to enjoy half the success of the seniors who now exit, even if it didn't feel that way after another disappointing end in Oklahoma City.
This can be a brutal place that way.Graham Hays covers women's college softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.
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