After playing five straight road games over the past nine days, Florida’s softball team is preparing for a weekend homestand with some of its players under the weather. Though coach Tim Walton wouldn’t specify which players exactly were sick, he did say roughly half the team was feeling ill.
“I think it’s just one of those stomach bugs,” coach Tim Walton said. “I don’t think it’s anything major.”
However, No. 6 Florida can’t afford to lose a game, especially after sliding two spots back in the national top 25 rankings. Finishing in the top eight usually means a team gets to host a super regional in the NCAA tournament.
Despite going to Tuscaloosa and defeating No. 15 Alabama in two of three games last weekend, the Gators (34-7, 9-3 SEC) have lost three of their previous five contests, including a 4-1 loss to Florida State on Wednesday night.
Before playing the Seminoles, UF’s last practice was on April 4, a possible contribution to its recent offensive slump.
In its last five games, the team’s batting average has been a measly .176.
Over that stretch, Florida produced two or fewer hits in three contests and no more than three runs in four of those.
Now it plays host to another conference foe, No. 11 South Carolina, beginning tonight at 6 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The Gamecocks (34-7, 8-4) are victors in four of their previous five contests.
“(South Carolina) was the premier softball program in the SEC when the SEC opened up, and they’re back,” Walton said. “Very similar to what we look like. You take the names off the page… very similar statistics.”
South Carolina boasts a pitching staff that features three players who have each made at least 10 starts, registered nine wins and pitched at least six complete games.
Each pitcher is especially stingy in allowing the long ball and extra base hits. As a staff, it has only allowed 12 home runs, 31 doubles and two triples, all while holding opponents to a .201 batting average.
The Gators will combat the Gamecocks’ pitching by reorganizing their struggling offense.
In an effort to produce a spark, Walton has been switching around the batting order. Against FSU, he batted first baseman Kayli Kvistad, the team leader in walks and normal three-hole hitter, in the leadoff spot.
“We’re moving them around just to see what the best formula is,” Walton said. “Every series, we’ll have a different lineup.”
Follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr and contact him at [email protected].