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Thursday October 3, 2013 Walton already fired up about his freshmen phenoms

Updated: 10:40am, October 8

GourleyGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Walton knew he had two game-changers joining his Florida softball team this year and really didn’t need Sunday’s fall debut to confirm as much.

But it did.

Remember these names: Delanie Gourley and Justine McLean.

The Gators have had a slew of decorated prep All-Americans enter the program in Walton’s remarkable eight-year run -- a stretch that includes five College World Series berths the last six years -- but the addition of this dynamite and diminutive freshman duo has the clubhouse and the diamond at Seashole Stadium all abuzz.

And it’s barely October.

“If you can turn the volume up on a team, that’s what we’ve done,” Walton said.

Let’s start with Gourley (pictured left), who at San Diego El Capitan High set the California Interscholastic Federation career strikeout record with 1,352 and as a junior led her school to the 2012 state championship.

Gourley goes just 5-foot-4, but throws a hard riser ball rivaled only by her wicked change-up. She gives Walton the rare luxury of a pitcher with two “out” pitches. Oh, and she's a lefty.

In UF’s 23-0 win over Santa Fe College to open its fall schedule Sunday, Gourley pitched four innings, gave up one hit, struck out eight and walked one. 

“Ultimately, she has the tools to be a strikeout pitcher,” Walton said. “And when I say strikeout pitcher, I mean, realistically, she could be a double-digit strikeout kid per game ... potentially.”

Gourley’s range of speeds had her coaches and teammates calling her “Bugs Bunny” in reference to the famous cartoon -- titled “Baseball Bugs” -- where the iconic Looney Tunes hare conquers the mighty Gas House Gorillas by himself.

“You’ve seen that one, right?” Walton asked.

Yes, but it had been a while.

Here it is (around the 2:40 mark or so). 

And then there’s McLean, who’s actually an inch shorter than Gourley and is -- Walton is already declaring -- the fastest player ever to come through the program.

Are you listening, Michelle Moultrie and Kelsey Stewart?

McLean mugMcLean (pictured right) starred at Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High, where she batted .580 as a senior. In the Santa Fe game, the lefty went 9-for-10 and scored seven runs in the Santa Fe game, but it was the blur of her racing the base paths that shocked her team.

[Note: In high school, she was succesful on 68 of her 72 stolen-base attempts (94.4 percent)]

“She hit a ground ball back to the pitcher and beat it out,” Walton said. "She hit one in the hole between short and third and ended up on second base."

What fires up Walton as much as what these newcomers -- the incoming rookie class also includes utility fielders Chelsea Herndon and junior college transfer Francesca Martinez -- might do on game day is how they’ll help his own team get better during practice. If a Gator can hit Gourley or throw out McLean, they’re way ahead of the game.

Again, it’s only the fall season and UF’s next exhibition game isn’t until Oct. 20 against Georgia Highlands College.

But spring will be here soon enough.

Walton can’t wait.

“This group we have is dialed in. They understand,” he said. “I love how hard they’re working right now.”

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