After a disappointing early exit in the SEC Tournament, the No. 1 Florida softball team will quickly regather itself before pushing into the NCAA Gainesville Regional.
The Gators couldn’t put the pieces together in a 2-0 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels in the second round of the conference tournament. The offense sputtered, as only juniors Kayli Kvistad and Janell Wheaton could register hits on the night.
“You know, the past few years we haven’t really done that well in the SEC Tournament,” junior Aleshia Ocasio said. “But we’ve come out and had a strong postseason, so we’re not really looking too much at our SEC Tournament.”
Now, Florida (50-6, 20-3 SEC) will fix its gaze on the NCAA Regionals, where it earned a No. 1 seed in postseason positioning for the third consecutive year. They’ll host the opening regional rounds at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
“We’ve been home the last few years that I’ve been here,” Ocasio said. “And it definitely is an advantage, I think, to play on our home turf.”
The Gators will open regional play against Florida A&M, a team they are very familiar with.
Apart from being just over two hours away as in-state opponents, the two teams have already played twice this season.
Florida took apart the Rattlers 8-1 in the Aquafina Invitational hosted by the Gators on Feb. 17.
While extra-base hits were a rarity, a combination of 11 singles and speedy base running that earned nine steals got the Gators their seventh win on the year.
Nearly three months later, Florida concluded its season on May 7 against the Rattlers in a 7-0 victory that featured two home runs from Ocasio and senior Chelsea Herndon.
Although the Gators dispatched Florida A&M (18-29-1) easily, they know the Rattlers shouldn't be taken for granted, especially after the offense struggled near the end of the season.
And after not appearing in the Women’s College World Series in 2016 due to a Super Regional loss to Georgia, the motivation for the players and coaches is high.
“Wasn’t able to go to the College World Series last year, and it broke my heart,” sophomore pitcher Kelly Barnhill said. “So this year, we all have that extra little bit of drive to get there.”
Drive and motivation are one thing, but the ability to drive in runs has hindered the Gators as the season has dwindled down.
In its last three games against powerhouse programs Ole Miss, Florida State and Tennessee, Florida has scored a combined two runs.
In contrast, the Gators averaged five runs per outing in their first 22 conference games.
While questions arise surrounding their ability to load the bases and tack runs on the scoreboard, head coach Tim Walton knows the answer is simple.
“I think Amanda Lorenz and Kayli Kvistad have to get on base,” Walton said. “When they do that, we’re tough to beat.”
Easily Florida’s two most powerful bats, Lorenz and Kvistad are both featured near the top of Florida’s lineup. When they get into scoring position, good things happen for the Gators.
The Gainesville Regional begins Friday with a battle between FIU and Oklahoma State at noon, followed by Florida’s contest against Florida A&M at 2:30 p.m. The winner of those two games will play each other on Saturday at noon.
Contact Skyler Lebron at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SkylerLebron.