Every successful team has that rock, that solid player it can depend on throughout a season and especially when times get tough. The Florida Gators’ softball team has that in Skylar Wallace. The redshirt junior transfer from Alabama has solidified the shortstop position and the No. 3 spot in a potent batting order where small ball is utilized to the fullest.

Wallace and the Go-Go Gators are headed to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series after demolishing hosts Virginia Tech, 12-0, in the deciding game of the Blacksburg Super Regional on Sunday. Florida opens up the 8-team double elimination tournament with Oregon State at 7 p.m. Thursday in a game televised nationally by ESPN.

It will be Florida’s 11th WCWS appearance.

Small ball

What Wallace has brought to the Gators this season is immeasurable other than to say she was among the SEC leaders in just about every offensive category. First in runs scored (79) and stolen bases (51), Wallace was near the top in batting average (.406), on-base percentage (.560), RBIs (53), triples (5), walks (49), hit by pitch (16) and total bases (117).

And her defense has been impeccable as well. With a fielding percentage of .972, Wallace has committed just 7 errors in 248 total chances this season.

Did we mention small ball? Wallace leads the team in home runs with 8, including 2 of the 3 homers the team has hit in 9 postseason games. But getting on base in whatever way possible, then using team speed, has been the formula for success this season.

“I think speed creates chaos,” Wallace said following the WCWS-clinching victory on Sunday over Virginia Tech. “We know that if we get one runner on, it’s just a matter of time before more runs come across the plate.”

Scoring in bunches

Though they finished a distant last in home runs during a record-breaking long ball season among SEC teams, still the Gators have been able to manufacture runs in bunches. They’ve outscored the opposition 47-10 in 6 NCAA Tournament games so far, totaling 10-or-more hits in 5 of those games. The 12 runs produced in the pivotal victory on Sunday were the most by a Gators team in the Super Regionals. They scored in every inning of that game.

Gators head coach Tim Walton, looking for a 3rd national championship after winning back-to-back titles in 2014-15, has put together a juggernaut in his 17th season in Gainesville.

“It’s really about confidence, and when this team gets going, it’s fun to watch,” Walton said. “We can run; we can bunt; we can steal.”

Then, while glancing toward Wallace, he said, “We can even hit home runs.”

Transfer from Alabama

Primarily a second baseman at Alabama, where she started 22 games in 2020, Wallace has moved into a more prominent role with the Gators. After having to sit out last year and watch the Gators fall to Georgia in the 2021 Super Regionals, she started all 65 games for Florida this season and played a key role in getting them over that hump and back into the WCWS.

In that short time, she’s played an integral part of the all-important team chemistry.

“Just to look to your left or right and see sisters that really care for you, not because of your stats or what you’re doing on the field but you as a person,” Wallace said. “We’ve worked so hard since the fall for this dream right here to go to OKC. It just means a lot of work has paid off and it was worth it.”

Saving the best for last

Though by anyone’s standards she’s already turned in an All-American season, Wallace has actually stepped up her game when it’s counted the most. She had a season-high 3 hits in the deciding game on Sunday against Virginia Tech, and her 4 RBIs tied her season-high. She paced a Florida team that pounded out 13 hits, the most by a Gators team in the Super Regionals.

After watching film on Virginia Tech pitcher Keely Rochard, a 2021 NFCA first-team All-American, and last year’s ACC Pitcher of the Year, Wallace said that she along with the rest of the team had a better idea of how to attack her Sunday.

“We all came up there with a plan, ready to go from the start,” Wallace said. “So, it was really just executing our plan and finding pitches to drive. Just keeping it super simple, we trusted our mechanics. We’ve been working on it all season.”

Whether it’s in the field or at the plate, Wallace puts the “Go” in the Go-Go Gators and they’ll be fun to watch at the WCWS beginning Thursday.

Skylar Wallace cover photo via Twitter @GatorsSB.