June 1, 2010

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By Paul D. Bowker
Special to NCAA.com


GAINESVILLE, Fla.-Kelsey Bruder's smile was wider than wide as she circled the bases after hitting a home run in Sunday's 5-2 NCAA Division I Super Regional win over Arizona State. She stomped on home plate as the Florida dugout emptied with players quite happy to greet her.

That was a scene Arizona State saw too many times last weekend as the Sun Devils were swept out of the Super Regionals in two games-a rarity for a team that won the national championship in 2008 and will miss the Women's College World Series for the first time in five years.

The reason? Gator Power.

For the third year in a row, Florida set a team single-season record for home runs - it now stands at 105, which also set a Southeastern Conference record. The Gators' team batting average of .335 is the highest in school history. Their 94 doubles are the second highest.

"With this lineup, any one of us can do it at anytime," said Bruder, a junior outfielder who is hitting a career-best .366 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs.

The Gators (48-8) have outscored opponents 38-5 in five consecutive postseason wins, with two victories shortened by the eight-run mercy rule. Against the Sun Devils, 10 of their 14 hits were for extra bases, including five home runs. Except for a 9-1 loss to Louisiana State in the SEC tourney, the Gators are nearly perfect in May, running up a 13-1 record with eight shutouts.

"I think that Florida will go a long way (in the Women's College World Series) because they have such a good offense," ASU head coach Clint Myers said, "and they've got pitchers who can go up there and compete."

Florida ranked third in the nation in home runs during the regular season. Of the World Series teams, only Hawaii, with a nation-best 143, is better.

The first test for Florida comes Thursday when the Gators meet UCLA (45-11) in the opening round of the World Series at Oklahoma City. The SEC East champion Gators were seeded No. 4 in the NCAA Tournament, but will arrive in Oklahoma City as the second-highest seed after No. 1 Alabama fell to Hawaii and No. 2 Michigan was swept by Tennessee.

Defending national champion Washington, the No. 3 seed, is the highest remaining seed at the World Series, and Huskies 2009 Player of the Year Danielle Lawrie was the last pitcher to defeat the Gators in consecutive games.

Lawrie struck out a combined 20 in 8-0 and 3-2 wins over Florida in the championship round of the 2009 World Series.

The Gators and Huskies have not played since and are set up in opposite brackets in this year's World Series.

"I think we all kind of have that taste in our mouth from losing in the final series last year," said junior Stephanie Brombacher, who has pitched three postseason shutouts and has won 34 of 40 decisions this year. "At least that's my motivating factor. I want to get back there to show people that, hey, we're back and we can do this."

"A lot of people didn't think we'd get back here, but it's great to prove them wrong," Bruder said.

Brombacher and Bruder are part of a junior class that has led the Gators into the World Series three consecutive years. Before 2008, the Gators had never been there.

"It does mean a lot," said Florida first baseman Megan Bush, one of five juniors in the starting lineup. "It means a lot to our class. It's just a big boost to our program so that we can continuously be good."

While last year's Florida squad was built around pitcher Stacey Nelson, a three-time All-American who is now with the USA Softball national team, the 2010 Gators feature a solid lineup behind Brombacher, who had a 42-0 record as Nelson's backup in 2008 and 2009.

Francesca Enea has hit a team-record 20 home runs, although she's struggling through an 0-for-15 slump in the postseason. Four other Gators have hit at least 10 home runs. Seven Gators are hitting over .300.

The hottest Gator is Bruder. In five postseason games, she's hitting .667. Her on-base percentage is .722 and slugging percentage is 1.600. Against the Sun Devils, she hit .800 and destroyed them with two home runs, two doubles and six RBIs. In addition to her two home runs Sunday, she walked twice.

"Things are just clicking," she said.