Tim Walton and his girls are learning how to find Oklahoma City with their eyes closed.
Back to the Women’s College World Series go the Gators, the champions of the Gainesville Super Regional in two straight games over Kentucky and the only team still alive in the NCAA Tournament to not give up a run. It’s the seventh time Florida has reached the WCWS, and all seven trips to OKC have come since 2008. And their latest trip was a result of following pretty much the same formula that got them to their first six: great pitching and defense and clutch hitting.
Stacey Nelson and Hannah Rogers would be proud of their successors in the circle. Aleshia Ocasio struck out 17 hitters in Florida’s first game of the Regional against FAMU, and then turned it over to Lauren Haeger, who proceeded to breeze through the rest of the Regional and then the Super Regional against Kentucky. The Cats could only muster five hits in two games against Haeger. That won’t win too many games.
Offensively, the Gators did just enough to eke by. A soft ground ball with a runner in scoring position probably shouldn’t score the run, but it did because Kentucky’s shortstop couldn’t field the ball cleanly and couldn’t get anybody out. Then again, Florida deserves some credit for having runners on base in the first place, as Taylore Fuller and Kayli Kvistad strung together back to back singles, which allowed Justine McLean’s grounder to score the game’s only run.
On the other hand, Florida shortstop Katie Medina was outstanding in the field. On consecutive plays in Kentucky’s bottom of the seventh, she sprinted into left field and made two backhanded catches, one of which would have dropped for a fair ball, and thus robbing Kentucky of a much needed baserunner. That comparison of shortstops was all the difference in the game, and it’s why Florida’s going to the WCWS and why Kentucky is GatorBait for the fifth time this year- and for the fourth time this year, by shutout.
On a larger scale, the difference between winning and losing can be so minute in softball, and a quick look at Florida’s 55-6 record proves that this team knows how to win games in a variety of ways. Doesn’t matter if it’s pretty. This team wins, and winning is beautiful. Now, they reach the final stage of the NCAA Tournament, where seven other teams who know how to win just as much as they do will challenge them for the national championship.
If they do what got them here some more, there’s a good chance the Gators will be dancing with a wood and gold plaque in the dirt in the Sooner state for the second straight year.
It begins against Tennessee on Thursday…