It was an adventurous weekend for the Gators softball team.
At its conclusion, Florida was headed to its third-consecutive Women’s College World Series, and 10th in program history.
UF now heads to Oklahoma City to compete among the seven other Super Regional winners for its third national title, and first since 2015. The No. 5 Gators will be joined in their WCWS bracket by No.1 Oklahoma, No. 8 Alabama and No. 13 Oklahoma State, who is set to open against Florida on May 30th.
A Game 1 shutout over the No. 12 Volunteers set the initial tone in the Super Regional,, with senior ace Kelly Barnhill delivering a three-hit, seven strikeout performance to put the Gators a victory away from a trip to Oklahoma City among the NCAA’s final eight.
That victory seemed inevitable, as Florida had not given up a single run up to that point in this year’s NCAA postseason play and had an offense slowly starting to produce more.
Saturday’s Game 2 walk-off loss to Tennessee put Florida in different territory. Barnhill proved vulnerable, if only for a little, giving up three earned runs in her 13th loss of the year. Sophomore Natalie Lugo walked in the game-winning run in the ninth-inning, and the Volunteers forced a Game 3 win-or-go-home bout at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
There was an uncertainty that the Gators had not faced in NCAA play thus far, a first game where the season was on the line.
Barnhill delivered in Sunday’s elimination game, tossing six innings of shutout ball and keeping her team ahead of Tennessee. But when a solo-shot from Haley Bearden tied the game for Tennessee in the seventh inning, Barnhill once again faced adversity.
Florida fought back, and a shutout inning followed by a walk-off single from Jaimie Hoover scored first baseman Amanda Lorenz and gave Barnhill the support she needed, earning the Gators their spot in college softball’s Elite Eight.
It’s a triumph for the Gators, whose season-long trials and tribulations ultimately resulted in a return visit to a place where which they have had so much success.
“That feeling is unbelievable,” Hoover said in a release. “I am so happy I could to that for my team.”
Follow Jack Braverman on Twitter @jack_braverman and contact him [email protected].