GatorZone.com Senior Writer
His team hosted Florida Gulf Coast University in the Gainesville Regional, the first step along a journey the Gators hope ends with a fifth consecutive trip to the Women's College World Series.
But as Walton filled out his lineup card, three names were missing. Three names Walton has relied on heavily this season: left fielder Kasey Fagan, shortstop Cheyenne Coyle and third baseman Sami Fagan.
The trio had combined for 163 of a possible 171 starts entering Friday's game, and Coyle and Sami Fagan formed the starting left side of the infield, so there was no way around the Gators not feeling their absence in a 2-1 loss to FGCU.
"It's something that I handled and handled as well as I could and as well as I'm capable of handling,'' Walton said afterward. "I'd be crazy to say it didn't affect the team.
"A team is a team and you work hard from the beginning of the season. Any kind of departure of any person on this team not in that lineup or not on this field is a distraction, no question."
Walton declined to give specifics about why the players are no longer on the team, saying only that he is handling the situation internally and that the players "are no longer with us."
When asked if that was permanently, he said:
"As you go through the end of the season you've got to address everything where you're at, so as of right now they are off the team for the rest of the season."
While it was a difficult day for those in orange and blue at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, the other dugout was all smiles.
Yes, it was a day to celebrate for the Eagles, who got their first NCAA Tournament victory in any sport.
FGCU transitioned to Division I this year and while both its soccer teams and women's basketball team made it to the postseason, none pulled off a victory.
To do it against the Gators, the state's flagship program and the NCAA Tourney's No. 5 overall seed, was reason to celebrate even more.
"We have never played in front of a crowd that big,'' said Eagles third baseman Kirsten Bembnowski, whose solo home run in the second inning gave FGCU an early lead. "We wanted to show what we could do. I would have never thought we would be ahead of the Gators – the Florida Gators."
Despite the difficult situation, Walton said he liked the way the Gators competed and handled the distractions of the day. He saw a team that came ready to play.
And while the lineup was missing some key pieces – Briana Little played left field, Samantha Holle started at third and Katie Medina was at shortstop – Walton's highlight was a player who missed 39 games making her long-awaited return.
Brittany Schutte played for the first time in more than two months after suffering a broken jaw due to an errant throw earlier this season. Schutte started in right field and went 0-for-2 with a walk.
That gave Walton reason to flash a smile.
"Brittany Schutte is back playing softball again,'' Walton said. "That's one of the biggest bright spots on this team this season – to have an All-American come back from the injury and come back from the rehab and come back from the surgeries – to come out there on that field to give us a chance to win the ballgame.
"I was really happy to have her back out there today."
The Gators managed five hits and tied the game in the third inning on Lauren Haeger's RBI single. However, a solo homer by Emily Lanier in the sixth off Gators starter Hannah Rogers proved to be the decisive run.
Rogers did her job by pitching a complete game, surrendering six hits and striking out nine.
"They were just pitches they were able to hit well,'' Rogers said of the two solo home runs that cost her.
FGCU coach David Deiros was unable to sigh until Shelby Morgan retired the Gators on three pitches in the bottom of the seventh.
"Florida put us under constant pressure,'' Deiros said. "They didn't fold."
Neither did Walton.
After the game was over and the standing-room-only crowd of 1,345 departed, Walton took a break from a tough day on the field.
As the grounds crew pulled the tarp to cover the infield, Walton threw a baseball back and forth with his son Brooks as his wife and two other kids played nearby.
The Gators' season could be down to one game – Florida faces UCF in the loser's bracket on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Suddenly, talk of another trip to the WCWS has been replaced by missing players and elimination games.
That's not exactly the way Walton drew it up, but he is dealing with it.
Dealing with it the best he can. The message to his team afterward was simple.
"Just have fun and go play ball,'' he said. "That's what we came out here to do today. We've just got to go play ball. At the end of the [day], it's a game."
A game that can offer more challenges some days than others.