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Friday May 18, 2012 Slugger Brittany Schutte returns to lineup for NCAA Tournament

Updated: 5:19pm, May 18

SchutteGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Welcome back, Brittany Schutte. Your timing could not be better.   

Schutte, who set a single-season Florida record with 22 homers in 2011, will return to the UF lineup for tonight’s opening-round play of the NCAA softball regional after missing more than two months with a broken jaw. The junior from Fountain Valley, Calif., will start in right field for the fifth-seeded and host Gators (46-11) when they face Florida Gulf Coast (37-22) Friday at 6 p.m. at Pressly Stadium.

The survivor of the Gainesville regional bracket this weekend, which also includes South Florida and Central Florida, advances to the NCAA super-regional round next week.

“My team is important to me, and I wouldn’t do anything that would mess up our chemistry,” UF coach Tim Walton told GatorZone. “But Brittany Schutte is a gamer and a game-changer.”

And a big-time threat at the plate, which Florida could use after scoring just 18 runs its previous 10 games. The Gators went 4-6 during that stretch, including a 10-1 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game Sunday.

Schutte, the starting catcher, was hitting .417 through 17 games, with three homers and 23 RBI, when she was struck in the face by an infielder’s throw while running to first base in March 2 game against Gardner-Webb. Schutte, who was not wearing a face mask, had surgery on her jaw March 5.

That was 75 days and 40 games ago. Florida was 16-1 at the time.

The Gators are 31-10 since.

“She’s an All-American, a great leader and a great person. We need her in the lineup,” said Kelsey Horton, who’s done the majority of catching since Schutte was forced from the lineup. “You never want to see anyone you’re close to go through something like that. But we can all be happy now [that] she can get back to doing what she loves.”

Schutte is a career .351 hitter, with 44 homers, 137 runs scored and 151 RBI. Last summer, she played for the USA National Team that won the gold medal in the World Cup of Softball at Oklahoma City.

“There’s going to be some nervousness and anxiety, and she’ll probably feel a little bit of pressure to carry this offense to perform like it hasn’t performed since she’s been gone, fair or unfair,” said Walton, who has been working extra with Schutte all week. “About the only thing she hasn’t done for us is run the bases and dive ... but hopefully she’s just hitting the ball over the fence and jogging around the bases.”

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