GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tie game. Extra innings. Go-ahead run at first. Best hitter at the plate.
Michelle Moultrie’s strategy wasn’t complicated.
“Pretty much just try to win the game,” UF's center fielder said matter-of-factly.
Moultrie, in the home stretch of one of the best softball careers in Florida history, roped a slightly outside pitch down the left field line for a double that scored teammate Jessica Damico from first base in the bottom of the eighth, giving the second-ranked Gators a 2-1 victory Tuesday night over 23rd-ranked LSU at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
The play proved pivotal, as UF (42-6, 19-3) dropped the nightcap 1-0 to the Tigers (33-16, 14-8). The split left the Gators tied atop of the Southeastern Conference standings heading into this weekend’s home series against Kentucky.
“You could say a split today was a victory, given the circumstances of that first game,” UF coach Tim Walton said.
Moultrie stepped in, then stepped up.
“It felt good to come through, get the win and come from behind against a really good team,” she said. “I actually get pretty excited in those kinds of moments.”
Unlike some others.
Take the upcoming series against the Wildcats. Tucked inside the must-win SEC circumstances is the fact Moultrie, who ranks first in program history in career average (.386) and stolen bases (79), will be playing the final home series of her sensational four-year run with the Gators. The lone member of UF’s 2012 senior class will be honored before Saturday’s game.
Sentimental stuff, right?
“I don’t know,” the Jacksonville native said. “I’m sad it’s almost over, but I’m not sure how I’m going to react. We’ll see. I’m not super-emotional.”
“And we’ll still have a game to play.”
That’s Michelle Moultrie.
“She’s really good at that,” Walton said. “She understands how she fits into this team. She has to be our leader. Has to be our rock -- and she does it. She’s been that from Day 1. She doesn’t lead by the words she says. She just goes and plays ball.”
Moultrie has been doing that since she arrived as a walk-on from Mandarin High and eventually worked her way into the starting lineup as a freshman. Last year, in helping lead the Gators to their fourth straight CWS berth, she set UF single-season records for average (.443), on-base percentage (.519), hits (101), triples (5), stolen bases (31).
In May she'll graduate with a degree in business administration, a specialization in sports management.
“Obviously, this should be a great tribute to a great player at the end of her career,” Walton said of the upcoming Senior Day celebration. “Michelle Moultrie actually is the kind of player you want in your program and one you would love to have the opportunity to coach. You hope there are more kids out there like her. She’s a great role model and plays the game the right way; lives her life the right way.”
Junior outfielder Ensley Gammel lives with Moultrie. Gammel’s solo homer on a 1-2 pitch with two outs in the bottom of the seventh Tuesday set the stage of for her roommate’s extra-inning heroics.
Gammel and the rest of the Gators plan to make sure Moultrie remembers her last homestand.
“We’re going to play for Michelle this weekend, I promise you that,” Gammel said. “The motto this year has been to play like it’s your last game. Well, it’s Michelle’s last year, it’s her time playing here at home -- and we’re going to play like it for her.”
That should be good enough for the leader who seems to shy away from the individual fanfare.
“Maybe this summer, it will all hit me hard. What's all happened here,” Moultrie said. “But we still have games to play. A lot of games, hopefully.”