Before the SEC tournament began, Florida softball head coach Tim Walton said he was not a big fan of the conference tournament.
He said because each team beats each other up for 28 games, doing away with the tournament would allow the teams to get healthy and mentally prepared going into the NCAA tournament.
After an early exit in the SEC tournament on Thursday, Walton will see if his theory is true as the Gators (47-9) were selected as the fourth seed in the field of 64 on Sunday, and will face Bethune-Cookman (33-24) in Game 2 of the Gainesville Regional on Friday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium at 6 p.m.
Florida will play the winner of the first game in the regional between the Jacksonville Dolphins (43-14) and last year’s National Champion, the UCLA Bruins (33-17), at 3:30 p.m. Regional play between the four teams will be played in a double-elimination format.
The Gators are going into the tournament after losing to Auburn 6-2 in the first round of the SEC tournament.
Walton said despite Auburn’s performance, his team and the coaching staff did not prepare as well enough as it needed to succeed, but said the loss was “good preparation to get everyone’s attention for the next practice.”
“It’s easier to listen to your coach talk to you when you don’t play as well as you want to,” he said.
Florida is going into the regional play winning 17 of its last 19 games after a six-game losing streak to Kentucky and the SEC Championship runner-up, Georgia. Before losing to the Tigers, the Gators swept the SEC Champion, Tennessee, while celebrating the Senior Days of the winningest class in Florida softball history.
On Friday, they will face a Bethune-Cookman team that won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament on Sunday. The Wildcats will be making a return to Gainesville as they lost in last year’s regional to Florida and Florida International.
Jacksonville comes into regional play after winning their first ever conference championship after beating Lipscomb in the A-Sun tournament on Saturday. The Gators beat the Dolphins in Jacksonville earlier this season with a 7-0 win on Feb. 16.
And in what seems to be the most intriguing placement in the Gainesville regional is UCLA, coming across the country like Gator seniors Aja Paculba, Kelsey Bruder and Megan Bush.
Last year’s champion gave Florida its first loss in the College World Series last season with a 16-3 contest that only lasted six innings.
Both teams met earlier this season on Feb. 26, in the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., and the Gators evoked some revenge, beating the Bruins 4-1, before winning the tournament.
The Gators will be hosting the regional round for the ninth consecutive season and 12th overall. If Florida can get past its region, it will have the opportunity to host the Super Regional in a best-of-three series with the University Park (Pa.) Regional winner, featuring the host, Penn State (27-22), No. 13 seed Oregon (39-14), Albany (NY) (28-21) and Fordham (41-17).
Tickets for the games can be purchased from the Gator Ticket Office beginning Monday morning. Tickets for all the games start at $25 for adults and $10 for UF students, children under 17 and seniors over 55. Single game tickets are $10 and $5, for the respective groups.
Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.