OKLAHOMA CITY — Michelle Moultrie became a Florida Gator because she was persistent.
A Jacksonville, Fla., native, Moultrie came late to the recruiting game. By the time she decided she wanted to attend Florida, she had also decided that she was going to give the Gator softball team her best shot.
“She had been sending me emails and sending me stuff about coming to play for Florida,” said coach Tim Walton. “We sent one of our coaches to watch her play in a high school game. We could see her athleticism, but she was really raw.”
From there, the Gator staff kept tabs on Moultrie. Things didn’t really start to turn in her favor until she notified Walton that not only had she been academically accepted into Florida, but she intended to spend a week at a Gators softball camp.
“If a kid’s going to take the time to do that, I’m going to watch her,” Walton said. “So I followed her around the camp a lot and worked with her swinging and watched her run. At the end of camp, I told her thanks for coming.
“A week later, I gave her a phone call and talked to her about being on the team for the fall and working to earn a spot. About two weeks into the fall, I said ‘hey, you don’t have to worry about working to earn that. You’ve made the team. Now you’ve got a big task ahead of you but I really like what I see so far.’”
What Walton had seen at that point has continued to blossom.
As a freshman, Moultrie played in 60 games, starting 41 and led the Gators with 15 steals on 20 attempts to be named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. But it was an early February game that Walton remembers best from that first season.
“We played at Jacksonville her freshman year and there were 250 Moultrie fans there and I’m like ‘what the heck?’” Walton said. “She got a chance to play a little bit and they all went crazy. I was standing there trying to figure out why are there so many people here for this kid.”
“When we played Jacksonville, the whole city came out the first time,” Moultrie said. “It was crazy. I think they broke their attendance record. I have a lot of fans and friends and family supporting me. I’m really grateful for them.”
From those humble beginnings as a part-time player, Moultrie has grown into the starting centerfielder. Her sophomore year, Moultrie earn second-team All-SEC honors, starting all 59 games and leading the Gators in batting average (.389), hits (72), sacrifice hits (8) and multi-hit games (22).
This season, Moultrie has turn in a career-high 19-game hitting streak. Entering the WCWS, Moultrie ranked 14th nationally with five triples, and ranked 22nd in batting average (.431), 65th with a team-high 45 stolen bases and 16th in runs scored per game (1.06).
Moultrie has evolved from that raw talent that pestered her way onto the squad into a third-team NFCA/Louisville Slugger All-American while hitting leadoff for a tem that is making its fourth consecutive Women’s College World Series appearance. In the Gators’ 2011 WCWS opener, Moultrie contributed a leadoff home run, her third homer of the season and ninth of her career, in UF’s 6-2 win against Missouri.
|Baylor vs. Alabama||7 p.m.|
|Florida vs. Arizona State||9:30 p.m.|
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Moultrie said of her rise from walk-on to starting centerfielder. “It’s just been really great. It was tough at first. With everybody, it’s tough coming into a different caliber type team and to come on here, the coaches did a great job. I’ve really appreciated all they’ve done [for me] throughout the years.”
Florida is set to face Arizona State in its second WCWS game this week and Moultrie aims to set the tone as the Gators’ leadoff hitter. Walton looks back on that first game in Jacksonville to illustrate what he’s learned about the pesky centerfielder.
“Looking back, it’s because she’s such a great person,” Walton said. “Everybody she comes in contact with loves this kid. Not because she’s a good softball player, but because she’s a great person.
“Now she’s becoming a great softball player on top of a great person. She’s an unbelievable treat to coach and somebody who’s fun to watch and easy to work with.”