The Gators blew through their NCAA Regional for the fourth-consecutive year over the weekend, bringing them one step closer to the Women’s College World Series.
One step closer to a three-peat.
Even Florida's coach is feeling the hype after hearing sports anchors heap praise onto other softball teams.
“I’m watching TV, and I’m paying attention to ESPN and all the commentators. And they’re really pumping up a lot of programs and their success that they’ve had,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “I went, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve done all that. We’ve been there.’”
But now entering the Super Regionals, Florida’s back-to-back national championships won’t help it outfight the other 15 teams competing for college softball’s crown in Oklahoma City in June.
But one thing that could help — and has helped so far — is the dominance of Florida’s pitching staff. Florida's staff is widely believed to be the best in the NCAA.
Its pitchers shut out Alabama State on Friday and blanked UCF both Saturday and Sunday.
“If you don’t give up any runs, you can’t ever lose, and that’s been our mantra since 2007,” Walton said.
In NCAA Regionals — the 64-team stage where 16 groups of four teams play a double-elimination tournament to determine who moves on to the Super Regional Round of 16 — the Gators haven’t given up a run in three years.
That last time was on May 18, 2013, when Florida beat USF 11-1.
That’s 68-straight innings.
Senior third baseman Taylore Fuller wasn’t surprised.
“That’s how we play ball,” the senior said. “That’s how the Gators play. Those are the standards that we have, and we won’t settle for anything less.”
But it’s not just pitching.
Fielding, like Fuller’s in the hot corner, have kept opponents from even creating scoring opportunities, let alone capitalizing on them.
Florida hasn’t had an error throughout the postseason. You’d have to go back to a regular-season May 4 matchup against FSU in Tallahassee to find the last time UF recorded an error.
The Gators are tied for the nation’s top fielding percentage with the team it beat in last year’s championship, the Michigan Wolverines.
If Florida can keep a pulse offensively, it’s pitching and defense can get it past a three-game series with Georgia in this weekend’s Super Regional.
“When you can go out and throw three shutouts, play error-free softball and swing the bat very well, you get rewarded with W’s,” Walton said.
Contact Matt Brannon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @mattb_727
UF softball coach Tim Walton (right) walks away as his infielders huddle prior to Florida's 2-1 win against Florida Atlantic in the 2015 NCAA Super Regionals at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.