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Freshmen Kelsey Stewart (left) and Taylore Fuller are new and old teammates with the Gators.

Wednesday February 13, 2013Gator Freshmen Stewart and Fuller are No Strangers

Freshmen Kelsey Stewart (left) and Taylore Fuller are new and old teammates with the Gators.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart keeps doing what she did in the season’s first weekend, her teammate Taylore Fuller can approach at ease.

This is a young Florida softball team that features seven newcomers, nearly half the roster. Stewart and Fuller are two of the fresh faces on Tim Walton’s squad. However, they have some shared history.

Stewart and Fuller both played for the same travel team last summer, the Wichita (Kan.) Mustangs based out of Stewart’s hometown. Stewart started playing for the Mustangs as an eighth-grader and by the time she was a senior at Wichita’s Maize High, she was the Mustangs’ leader and one of the country’s top recruits.

She committed to Florida as a sophomore and was joined on the Mustangs over the summer by Fuller, who grew up not far from Florida’s campus in Chiefland. Before making their debuts with the Gators at last weekend’s Kajiwaka Classic in Arizona, the two were well-acquainted.

They were teammates and roommates with the Mustangs. Fuller stayed at Stewart’s home and Stewart stopped by Fuller’s house for dinner on a visit to Florida.

It didn’t take long for Fuller to get an idea of how Stewart approached the game. If Stewart had a bad at-bat, or made an error in the field, Fuller knew exactly what to do.

“She is very good, very competitive,’’ Fuller said. “If she doesn't do something right, then just leave her alone."

That was not a concern Fuller had to worry about at the Kajiwaka Classic. As the Gators opened the season with five consecutive wins, Stewart batted .556 (10-for-18) with two doubles, a triple, two homers, five RBIs and five stolen bases.

Stewart’s eye-opening start to her college career also caught the attention of the Southeastern Conference, which named her SEC Player of the Week.

Stewart is a natural slap hitter who can play both middle-infield positions and bat leadoff. Walton said in the preseason that there is no replacing Michelle Moultrie, last year’s leadoff hitter and an All-SEC selection. That’s true, but Stewart is at least filling part the void Moultrie left behind.

“We've got a proven leadoff hitter at the top,’’ Walton said.

At first glance, Stewart’s stats from her senior season seem a misprint: .649 batting average, 12 home runs and 65 RBIs. She was really that good. Good enough to be named a first-team All-American by ESPNHS.

Stewart arrived at UF following a productive summer with the elite-level Mustangs, a final tune-up for her college career that served her well.

“You are obviously playing the best girls at our age, so being able to hit off the best pitchers or win against some of the best teams was definitely a confidence boost,’’ Stewart said. “I feel like there are a few areas I can heighten. But I'm definitely at a good spot where I need to be.”

While Stewart burned up the bases in her first collegiate action, Fuller split time starting at catcher and left field. She went 3-for-15 with a double and three RBIs.

Fuller joined the Mustangs last summer with a reputation.

“I just knew she was a home-run hitter,’’ said Stewart. “That's all I heard."

If Stewart’s high school stats seem gaudy, check out what Fuller did last season as the 2012 Florida Dairy Farmers Class 1A Player of the Year: a .778 batting average, a 1.944 slugging percentage, 14 home runs and 33 RBIs.

Fuller and fellow freshman Aubree Unroe are expected to share the bulk of the catching load for the Gators.

“They are both completely different,’’ Walton said. “Taylore is probably going to be more offensive catcher although she does have a really good throwing arm. She is one of those players who just plays, really a blue-collar type player.”

Both Fuller and Stewart will make their home debuts on Friday when the Gators host UNC Wilmington to open the Lipton Invitational.

Fuller said the time spent around Stewart with the Mustangs helped her game, especially underneath her batting helmet.

“At this level I feel you always have to have a sense of confidence about you or you're not going to make it,'' Fuller said. "She is a confident player. That's what you need.

"She helped me mentally a lot. I wasn't the most confident coming in. With her being extremely confident, it kind of rubbed off on me and showed me that I was a good player and that I could compete.”

Since arriving on campus, the two have spent time watching film together of past Florida games to learn about their new teammates and opponents they will face. They hang out off the field, too.

But it’s on the field where they hope to do their best work. Both said their common background should help.

“We can look at each other and know what each other want to do,’’ Stewart said. “If we want to pick somebody off, I can just look at her and she's like, 'Yup, that's it.' That part of it, knowing each other's tendencies, know what I can and can't do, and also she knows where to throw the ball. She can lead me and I'll be there.”

Fuller agreed.

“That was just a plus to be able to get to know her,’’ she said.

 

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