The Gator softball team (40-8, 19-5) accomplished a huge feat this past Sunday when it won a share of the regular-season SEC Championship. The Gators mounted multiple comebacks and produced not only one, but two walk-off victories in a much-needed sweep over Texas A&M.
“I don’t remember a team winning in their last at-bat, let alone the last game to win the SEC championship,” head coach Tim Walton said.
Charla Echols was named SEC Player of the Week after her clutch performance against the Aggies and earned First Team All-SEC honors for the season.
“She's not only grown this season she's grown this week, she's grown this weekend,” Walton said about the Michigan State transfer. “She's getting better and better and better and I think, players, or teammates, are really doing a good job of kind of embracing her and treating her right.”
Many Gators, like Echols and All-SEC Newcomer Team member Julia Cottrill, will be playing their first postseason softball after COVID-19 eliminated their opportunity last year.
Florida showed its ability to perform together under pressure against Texas A&M, a continual growth factor key to any postseason success.
“We came in, with a lot of pressure, with a lot of young kids, to get a sweep, in situations where a lot of people wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure,” Walton said.
With the regular season now in the rearview mirror, the fourth-ranked Florida team will travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to commence the 2021 SEC Tournament.
The regular-season co-SEC Champions earned a first-round bye and await the results of a Wednesday game to determine their first opponent. No. 8 Ole Miss (34-19, 12-12) and No. 9 Mississippi State (32-22, 8-15) will duel for the chance to play the top-seeded Gators.
While Florida did not play Ole Miss, the Gators succeeded against the Bulldogs in their regular-season series. The squad, aided by a wide range of scorers, architected a road series shutout. Florida won 1-0, 10-0 and the mercy rule was invoked on the final day in an 8-0 Gator victory.
The Rebels crushed the Bulldogs as well a week earlier. However, Mississippi State ended the season on a seven-game win streak and looks to carry that momentum to the postseason.
Throughout the season, the Gators subscribed to the mantra of one game at a time.
“Focus one game at a time and not get too ahead of our ourselves,” All-SEC First-Team first baseman Hannah Adams said.
A quarterfinal victory would likely set the Gators up to play the Tigers, whether that be fourth-seeded Missouri or fifth-seeded LSU, and either conference co-champion Arkansas or host Alabama would probably lie beyond.
Together, the Gators’ trio of Second-Team All-SEC pitcher Elizabeth Hightower, senior hurlers Natalie Lugo and Katie Chronister posed trouble for opposing teams all season long. The UF pitching staff leads the conference with a 1.72 ERA.
The Gators need to win three games to take home their third straight SEC Tournament title.
“Stats don’t matter now, it’s all about the moment,” Echols said.
The first pitch of the single-elimination tournament will fly on Thursday, May 13 at noon on the SEC Network. The championship concludes Saturday with the semifinals and finals broadcast on ESPN2.
Contact Julianna Reichenbach at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @Julianna_Reich