A different kind of March madness is set for this weekend in Gainesville.
The month of March marks the beginning of series play for the Gators. Three days, three games versus the same opponents. Unlike in tournaments, each team sees everything the other has to offer. There are no secrets.
No. 6 Florida’s (16-2) first series of the season starts tonight in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium against No. 10 Louisiana-Lafayette.
Earlier this week, the Ragin’ Cajuns (12-4) split two games with No. 3 Texas in Austin, Texas, winning the first and losing the second. Although Summer Ellyson was tabbed as one of the best returning collegiate pitchers in the preseason, it was senior Megan Kleist that led Louisiana to a 3-2 win over the Longhorns.
“They’ve got some very veteran-like pitchers,” said coach Tim Walton about Louisiana-Lafayette's staff.
Texas leads the country in team batting average with a .404, but Kleis managed to hold its lineup to a .214 average in the first game. On the season, she has registered 52 strikeouts in 50 innings of work.
But should Kleis not start in the circle, Ellyson could pose a similar threat to Florida’s offense. Last year, she led the NCAA with 39 wins, averaging 9.1 strikeouts through seven innings and an ERA of 1.11.
As a team, the Ragin’ Cajuns have the 10th lowest ERA in college softball (1.43) this season. The only other team the Gators have faced in the top 10 of that category is UCLA in fourth at 1.19.
The Gators are 3-2 against ranked opponents this season, but 7-3 all time against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Florida’s offense has been a point of improvement this year, however. Its personnel changes have allowed Walton to rely more on his lineup and its ability to facilitate offensive playmaking.
“The depth of our lineup puts our better hitters in position to be up in some big, crucial situations. And I think that’s what you’ve been able to see,” Walton said. “The depth of our lineup, the number (of runners) on base, the on base percentage...it really stretches the lineup.”
Florida is ninth in the country in on-base percentage and will be only the second top-10 team Louisiana-Lafayette has seen this season.
The Cajuns’ defense will face the one-two punch of Kendyl Lindaman and Charla Echols, who is tied for eighth in the nation in home runs with six.
The first pitch of the series is set to be thrown tonight at 6 p.m.
Follow Payton Titus on Twitter @petitus25. Contact her at [email protected].