Florida’s Skylar Wallace ends worst hit slump of career. Teammate says ‘everyone should be scared’

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No matter what happens the rest of the way in the NCAA softball tournament, Florida shortstop Skylar Wallace won’t soon forget the most miserable month of her college career.

She doesn’t want to, either.

Wallace, the Southeastern Conference player of the year in 2023, plans to use the head-scratching, gut-wrenching stretch as fuel while the fourth-seeded Gators try to advance to the Women’s College World Series for the fifth time in the last seven tournaments.

Florida (49-12) begins a best-of-three super regional series against Baylor on Friday. The winner moves on to the WCWS in Oklahoma City.

“I was putting so much pressure on myself, and that’s normal,” said Wallace, a fifth-year senior from Woodstock, Georgia. “I understand that. I have my standards. I’m super competitive. I never want to see myself fail and never want to see my teammates fail.”

After hitting a nation-leading .475 through the first two months of the season, Wallace went 2 for 31 (.065) at the plate over a 10-game span in which Florida lost seven times.

It was unreal to her and unimaginable to her teammates and coaches.

Her average plummeting more than 100 points as she started swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and doubting herself with every at-bat. She struck out seven times, more than doubling her season total, and no amount of extra work led to a fix.

“There were times at night I was crying in bed,” she said. “No one wants to go through that. But it’s part of the game. I would never change what happened in April. Obviously, I didn’t want it to happen, but I would not change it for anything.

“It was meant to happen for some reason and led me to where I am now.”

Wallace couldn’t get through a batting practice without tears. Equally troubling, she couldn’t get out of her own head.

“It’s a deep, dark hole and you don’t want anyone to go through it,” teammate Kendra Falby said. “All we could do was feel for her.”

Wallace kept grinding, tweaked her swing, honed her handwork, stayed patient and eventually snapped out of her unprecedented funk with a single she “smoked to center field” against rival Florida State.

She’s been red hot since, raising her average to .412 and her on-base percentage to .561.

“Now she’s back and everyone should be scared,” Falby said.

Wallace is 17 of 28 at the plate over Florida’s last nine games, all wins, and has been even better in the postseason. She’s 11 of 14 in those five games, with four home runs and 15 RBIs.

“I’ve done this long enough to know that seniors can slump for internal reasons and it’s usually expectations they’re battling,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “At some point in the season, Skylar realized that some big goals she set for herself and was striving toward were not going to be realized. She really just started trying too hard.”

Regardless, Wallace has returned to form and so have the Gators. Florida, one of seven SEC teams still remaining in the NCAA bracket, has won 11 in a row and looking to rebound after losing in regional play last year.

Walton responded by revamping his pitching staff with freshmen Ava Brown and Keagan Rothrock, landing standouts Korbe Otis (Louisville) and Jocelyn Erickson (Oklahoma) in the transfer portal and melding all the newcomers into a stacked lineup featuring key returners Wallace, Falby and Reagan Walsh.

Wallace’s slump was a surprising setback, no doubt. But it could end up being the most important piece of the team’s championship push.

“I never felt like we wouldn’t get there,” Walton said. “I just never felt it would take as long as it did.”


AP college sports: https://apnews.com/hub/college-sports

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