Call it the World’s Second Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Florida, as you may have heard, has a damned good softball team, one that breezed through the Gainesville Regional this weekend by a combined score of 24-0 to advance to the Super Regionals. Their opponent? The Georgia Bulldogs, of course- a team that Florida somehow didn’t play in the regular season.
There were some rumblings among those in the media who just love to stir the pot that Florida would have some trouble in their own Regional against vastly overmatched opposition. Because of course there were. Most of those “experts” deleted their tweets shortly after I retweeted them into my feed, effectively sending my own followers on a laughing spree at them; however, one of the lesser but still eye-raising, stir-the-pot comments is still up as of publishing:
But the larger point is this: Florida was never going to have any problems with any of the other three teams in their Regional. They likely will in every game from here on out. In other words, here we go.
The Gators have won games this year with their tremendous pitching staff, featuring Delaney Gourley, Aleshia Ocasio and Kelly Barnhill. Each of the three carry the same potential to shut down an opponent for the full seven innings with their arsenal of pitches that can make you look foolish. Stacey Nelson, Hannah Rogers and Lauren Haeger were all dominant pitchers, for sure, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an entire pitching staff that’s this fearsome. And if you don’t give up runs, you can’t lose. So advantage Florida there.
But you also can’t win if you don’t score runs, and that was a problem the last time Florida faced SEC opposition. Florida scored two runs in two games in the SEC Tournament. They also gave up two. And as you’d expect, they won one of those games and lost the other. Tim Walton’s club has a good offense, for sure, but not an overpowering one like last year, and we saw that for ourselves in the SEC Tourney.
There’s no Lauren Haeger to send mistake pitches into orbit, although there is an abundance of girls who seem to reach base every time they come to bat. In fact, the first two hitters in the lineup, Amanda Lorenz and Kayli Kvistad, boast on base percentages of over .500. So they literally reach base more than half the time. Which is incredible.
Yet a hitter reaching base, on her own, does nothing; you need a string of hitters to reach base in a row, or four out of five, to start the kind of rally that will knock a team like Georgia down for the count. Florida would get some base runners against Ole Miss and Auburn in the SEC Tournament, but couldn’t bring them around to score. And while sacrifices, and “productive outs” aren’t the worst thing, they’re only ultimately useful if they produce a run, either on that at bat or an ensuing one. Which was the Gators’ problem in Starkville two weeks ago.
But if the Gators do get some big hits this weekend- as the majority of games this season indicate they will- they’ll be more than OK. Florida is still too far away from the ultimate prize to think about a three peat, but they are two wins away from returning to the Women’s College World Series.
So, you know. Let’s bang out some hits, Gators.