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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Gators in top form heading into semifinals matchup with Tide

OKLAHOMA CITY - In the last two years, no team has beaten UF twice in one season.

After a 2-0 start in Oklahoma City, the Gators would have to drop two games in the semifinals to Alabama or two of three in the championship series to fall short of their season-long goal of a national championship.

Coach Tim Walton thinks there is only one team left in the field at the Women's College World Series capable of accomplishing that feat: the Gators.

"We'd have to really beat ourselves," Walton said. "With Stacey (Nelson) pitching the way she pitches and the way we play defense, we'd have to beat ourselves and just have an off day."

No. 1 UF (62-3) is back in the WCWS semifinals, where its season ended last year, feeling a little better rested and far more confident in its ability to get to the best-of-three championship series. The Gators will play for a title-series berth against fourth-seeded Alabama today at 3 p.m. and again at 9 p.m., if necessary.

"We're really hungry to win right now, and we're not going to let anything stand in our way," left fielder Francesca Enea said.

UF holds a 3-1 edge in previous matchups with the Crimson Tide this season, the most recent being an 8-5 victory in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship Game.

Nelson, the team's senior ace, has been nearly untouchable so far in Oklahoma City. She threw only 71 pitches in seven innings of work against Michigan, earning her 22nd shutout of the season.

With the way Nelson is pitching, the Gators have only needed her to take the ball and the offense to score one run to come out with a win.

"It makes things easier for us," Enea said. "But at the same time, we know that it's easier for her if we can hurry up and get the runs on early for her so she doesn't feel so stressed out."

The stress is hardly getting to Nelson, as she and her teammates spent their day off beating their coach in go-cart races.

"They just kicked my butt in go carts, so I don't see anything like that," Walton said. "They're just having fun. It's just a game. It's not life-or-death."

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Unlike last year, Nelson's offense has returned the favor by putting timely runs on the board. UF played three extra-inning games in 2008, the last of which was the Gators' 1-0, nine-inning loss to Texas A&M in the semifinals.

Enea and shortstop Megan Bush have done their part to ease Nelson's anxiety in the circle. All of UF's runs in Oklahoma City have come as a result of home runs by Enea and Bush, who has put her 1-for-16, 10-strikeout performance in last year's WCWS behind her with two home runs in two games, including the game-winner against Michigan.

"We have such great swings that when we make contact, we make contact right," Enea said.

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