Hitting the ball against Florida is hard enough, and getting on base is simply asking too much.
That’s because so far this season, No. 1 Florida’s pitching staff has been nearly untouchable. The three-armed attack of Aleshia Ocasio, Delanie Gourley and Kelly Barnhill is the most effective in the nation with a combined 0.87 ERA.
And if opponents somehow put a bat on the ball, they probably won’t make it to first.
The Gators top the country in fielding percentage with .986. Only four players have committed an error all season.
"That’s the one thing we’ve really tried to recognize," coach Tim Walton said Monday, "how important the defense really is to the game."
The 2015 National Championship team gave up an average of 1.82 runs per game. This year’s squad has cut that already impressive figure in half.
And it all starts in the pitcher’s circle, where Ocasio has spent more time than any other UF pitcher this year.
"Having confidence in (the) defense really calms me down in the circle," she said, "just knowing that everyone has my back is just a plus."
Ocasio is always pounding the strike zone. After facing 237 batters, she’s only walked 12.
"My goal is to make good pitches and the result is ground balls, fly balls for my defense to make," Ocasio said. "That’s really what I’ve been working on — to make good pitches so I don’t give batters freebies."
She hasn’t given batters anything this season, as she leads the nation with a 0.41 ERA.
And it’s not just the sophomore. Florida’s other two pitchers have also stunted opposing offenses.
Gourley has the nation’s fifth-best ERA at 0.86, and Barnhill set a school record with 18 strikeouts on March 16 against Winthrop.
To put the trio’s dominance into perspective, No. 19 Tennessee came into Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium with a top-20 .356 team batting average. It left with seven hits in three games.
"They’re doing such a good job," outfielder Justine McLean said. "This pitching staff — they’re all so different, and they’re dynamic about how they go against each batter."
While McLean credits the pitching staff, she’s also played a big role in the UF’s defensive dominance. The junior hasn’t made any errors and recorded a highlight-reel assist Sunday, fielding a ball off the right-field fence and gunning down a Tennessee batter digging for second base.
"This is probably one of the best outfields I’ve been a part of," McLean said. "I think we’re really quick all of us, just getting to the ball and accurate throws. And we’re all just really fast."
The Florida (30-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) defense will be put to the test when it plays a doubleheader against No. 6 LSU in Baton Rouge Friday starting at 5 p.m.
While LSU boasts the nation’s second-highest batting average, Florida is prepared to stunt the Tigers.
"We’re taking ground balls. We’re doing roller drills. We’re working on our gloves. We’re working on our footwork. We’re working on angles," Walton said.
"It’s definitely grueling … but the result is that we just don’t make a whole lot of unforced errors."