It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Florida Gators Softball. Just before they played host to an NCAA Regional this time last year, Coach Tim Walton kicked three starters off of the team for disciplinary reasons resulting in a failure to make the team’s fifth-straight Women’s College World Series appearance.
But instead of letting last year’s post-season woes linger, SEC Coach of the Year Tim Walton led the Gators Softball team to the top of the SEC in both the regular season and conference tournament last week in Lexington. As a result, the Gators clinched the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on their way to becoming the first team in the country to eclipse 50 wins with an 8-4 victory over Alabama.
But just because the Gators exceeded expectations this year, doesn’t mean they don’t still have a lot to live up to. Gators fans have been hungry for years, watching the team make four straight CWS appearances from 2008-2011, including two national championship series appearances in 2009 and 2011.
The emptiness of the 2012 post season just makes fans more eager for success in 2013, including revenge against Big East Champion and in-state rival South Florida (43-14) this weekend – the Bulls ousted the Gators in the Gainesville Regional in 2012.
The Gators have a lot to be optimistic about heading into the weekend; Hannah Rogers is 29-5 in the circle this season and freshman CF Kirsti Merritt just earned Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I National Player of the Week. Florida also holds a 2-0 record over USF this season, but complete redemption from last year would include a victory over the Bulls on Sunday.
Even with five All-SEC players and the SEC Coach of the Year, beating the Bulls would mean beating a team that has won 11 of their last 14 games coming into the Gainesville Regional and did not allow a run in the Big East Tournament. Before a rematch for revenge can happen, USF must first get past Southern Conference Champion Georgia Southern (32-28) in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Friday at 3:30.
Following that game, Florida (52-7) must overcome MEAC Champion Hampton (34-24), winners of 15 of their last 18 games en route to their second-ever NCAA Softball Championship berth. The winning teams Friday will play the first game on Saturday at 1 p.m., with two games to follow in a double-elimination format. The winner of the Gainesville Regional, determined on Sunday at 1 p.m., will advance to the NCAA Super Regional to face the winner out of the Louisville Regional.