In her first game as a Gator, Florida Gators freshman center fielder Kirsti Merritt stepped into the batter’s box in the fifth inning against Creighton.
The Lake Panasoffkee, FL, native belted the ball over the left field fence for her first career home run.
“That was so exciting to me,” Merritt said of her grand slam. “I didn’t even know what was going on, and then it just happened. All of my friends were texting me like ‘oh my gosh, good job!’”
Since her first game, the freshman has had a stellar first year. Arguably replacing the best Gators softball player, Michelle Moultrie, in center field is no easy thing to do. Especially since center field isn’t Merritt’s primary position.
The South Sumter High School graduate played shortstop all four years before coming to Gainesville, but when she got to UF, coach Tim Walton stuck her out in center.
There hasn’t been any issue with the change though, as she only has two errors on the season as of April 28.
She credits the easy adjustment to playing multiple sports growing up. In high school, Merritt lettered in softball, volleyball, basketball, track and weight lifting.
“I love challenging myself,” Merritt said. “I like to do get out there and do as many things as possible. That’s why it has been so easy for me to transition from infield to outfield.”
The transition from high school to college was one Merritt welcomed and said signing day was “the greatest day of my life.”
When she first verbally committed to Florida, she ran through her house screaming at the top of her lungs.
“My mom was like ‘What’s going on? Are you OK?’” and Merritt said to her, “‘I just got off the phone with coach Walton and I’m going to Florida!’”
The freshman has been a force at the top of the lineup since she arrived at Florida. As of April 28, Merritt has a .290 average, 38 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.
However, her legs haven’t been 100 percent all season.
In a game against Western Carolina, Merritt came up limping after legging out a double. She would miss the next seven games because of the injury.
She returned to the lineup against the University of South Florida on Feb. 27, the only other school that had recruited her out of high school.
“It was hard for me to sit out, but it was fun cheering them on because you always want your team to win and see them do good things,” Merritt said.
Now that she is back in the lineup, Kirsti has one goal on her mind, getting a national championship. She says,”That’s what I came to Florida to do.”