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Friday, April 12, 2024

UF faces season's first challenge with UNC on Saturday

The Gators welcome four teams to town for the Cox Communications Classic, which will be held this weekend.

UF (7-0) will play two teams Friday - East Tennessee State (1-1) and the College of Charleston (1-7) - in the first doubleheader of the weekend.

The Gators have never faced either team.

On Saturday, the team will take on its first real challenge of the season when it squares off against North Carolina (5-0) before playing a second contest with East Tennessee State.

North Carolina went 46-21 last season before being eliminated by Winthrop in the NCAA Regional.

History is on the Gators' side, as the Tar Heels have never defeated the Gators in four previous encounters - the most recent being a 2006 1-0 decision in Gainesville.

The tournament wraps up on Sunday with a second game against UNC and a final game against Stetson.

UF hopes a recent trend of in-state dominance - the Gators are 3-0 this season against Florida foes after going 9-0 in 2007 - will hold up against the Hatters.

UF is 12-2 all-time against Stetson and 11-0 on its home field.

Stetson will be looking for revenge. The Gators defeated the Hatters 7-0 in the NCAA Regionals last season.

All-American Stacey Nelson, who earned the win in that Regional game, will likely pitch three times over the weekend and will be looking to run her record to a perfect 7-0.

As a team, UF will try to set a new best for most victories to start a season - the 2005 squad got off to an 11-0 start before finally losing to Notre Dame. If they get a chance to break that mark, it will come on Saturday against East Tennessee State.

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The Gators will look for more production out of both the leadoff and cleanup spots in the lineup as they head into the six-game tournament.

All-American sparkplug Kim Waleszonia has gotten off to a slow start after lofty preseason expectations.

Waleszonia, who tops UF's career batting average list with a lifetime .338 average, is hitting just .211 through the first week of the season.

She made it clear prior to the start of the season that individual goals are not something she is striving for.

"I like to just come out and play with my teammates, and good things will come from that as a team," she said.

Waleszonia has found other ways to contribute without hitting for her usual high average. Coming into the weekend, she leads the team in runs (8) and stolen bases (5).

The quick-footed leadoff hitter is on pace to shatter the Gators' single-season stolen base mark (24), which she set a year ago.

Sophomore outfielder Francesca Enea seemed to be coming around at the plate on Wednesday. The four-hole hitter has posted an average of just .235 - though she did hit her first homerun of the season.

Enea's production is likely to rise as she becomes more comfortable with her new position in the outfield. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament last season and had to make the switch after bearing much of the catching duties last year.

"It's a slow learning process," she said. "I feel more comfortable after each pitch."

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