It is tournament time again. This time it is the NCAA softball tournament and the Florida Gators come in as the top overall seed and the reigning champions. Florida will host a regional this weekend in Gainesville. If the Gators win their regional, they will also host a Super Regional the next weekend. A Gator win in Super Regional would send the Gators back to Oklahoma City to defend their title.
This team is quite capable of accomplishing all of the above. Lauren Haeger is a more than capable ace not losing her first game of the season until Friday in the SEC Tournament. There is some minimal concern about who backs up Lauren on the mound. While both Delanie Gourley (10-2, 2.15 ERA) and Aleshia Ocasio (16-3, 2.11 ERA) have solid numbers but they do not give fans quite the confidence of Lauren. Coach Tim Walton will have to decide just how many innings he is willing to let Haeger pitch. Personally, I think the Gators have plenty of depth in pitching to make a return trip to Oklahoma City.
Florida boasts the SEC Player of the Year in JR Kelsey Stewart batting .454 with 66 runs scored and SEC Pitcher of the year in Haeger (24-1, 1.47 ERA). The Gators have plenty of pop in the lineup with three hitter with double-digit homeruns. Haeger has 15, Taylore Fuller has 12 and Bailey Castro has 16. This is a team built for double-elimination round robin tournaments. They might have an off night that bounces them from a single-elimination event like the SEC Tournament but with only six losses on the season, you have to like their chances of avoiding two losses in a weekend.
The Gators open the NCAA tournament on Friday hosting a regional that includes Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Hofstra. If the Gators emerge victorious from this weekend they will host a Super Regional against the winner of the regional hosted by Notre Dame. For some reason, the top seed in the tournament is not being televised up here in north Georgia. In fact, for all the talk of how the SEC Network was going to present SEC fans with more opportunities to see their favorite teams in all sports, it seems like there have been less Gator softball teams available to me than before the network existed. I have not researched the numbers to verify that but I love Gator softball and I don’t believe I have had nearly the opportunities to watch them this season as in the past. You would think that the reigning national champions would be on every week somewhere. It is possible to see the games on your computer and I will certainly do that.
This all culminates with the College World Series which is one of my favorite sports events of the season. The competition, emotion and level of play is all exceptional. These young ladies are impressive. The College World Series of softball is exciting and enthralling to watch. The SEC has come from literally nowhere a couple of decades ago to dominate the sport. There are eleven SEC teams in the field of 64 that make up the overall tournament. I would not be surprised to see as many as four SEC teams among the eight that make it to Oklahoma City. Nor would I be surprised to see an all SEC final like last year when Florida defeated Alabama in the championship series. This is a sport that was dominated by the Pac 12 and Big 12 forever. They hate seeing the SEC take control in yet another sport and, let’s be honest, that is enjoyable as well.
So, take a little time if you can over the next few weeks and watch some of these games. Get to know (if you do not already) your Gators’ roster and history. This is an elite team, perhaps THE elite team, in a fun and competitive sport. If you are a Gator, you should try to enjoy them. Especially these days.