Lions, Bison and mares, oh my!
This weekend, No. 8 Florida (5-1) will face North Dakota State (1-3), Longwood (2-2), Southeastern Louisiana (5-1) and Florida A&M (0-5) in the Bubly Invitational.
The Gators have an all-time combined record of 31-3 against these four teams, with their most recent loss coming in 2006 at the hands of the Lancers.
So, while the slate of opponents this weekend is not as threatening as their mascots may seem to the casual observer, it should give the pitching staff a chance to build up some much needed confidence before the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic next week, where they’ll battle four ranked opponents: No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 Arizona, No. 21 Northwestern and No. 23 Arizona State.
In the exhibition against Team USA, all five Florida pitchers made an appearance in the circle. After a rattling second game against then-No. 17 Michigan, junior Natalie Lugo still looked fazed on the pitching plate. She leads the staff in earned runs with six in 14.2 innings pitched.
While coach Tim Walton has noticed this trend, he continues to stand by the group, praising their performance against the Women’s National Team earlier this week.
“We gave up five runs the other day with two outs against Michigan. We gave up four runs with two outs (Tuesday) against Team USA,” Walton said. “Same pitcher, so we’re going to have to do a little bit better job with certain things, but I thought all five of them, in some crucial situations, really did a good job of keeping this game.”
On the offensive side of the plate, catcher and power hitter Jordan Roberts has been the storied maturation of the season. After hitting nine home runs in 2019, the 5-foot-7 senior out of Live Oak, Florida, has walloped four on as many as four hits in the last three games. She is one of seven Division I softball players tied for first in the country in home runs and is the only batter in the SEC with that distinction.
Eight games in six days, spanning from Tuesday’s exhibition through Sunday’s final matchup versus FAMU. The Gators are clearly in the thick of their 2020 campaign. When asked about the strategy moving forward and protracting his team’s focus, Walton echoed the mantra first relayed by Roberts in the preseason: playing mindful softball and taking things one game at a time.
“The thing that you worry about more than anything, is you get to this high of competing against a time like (Team USA) and you start to come downwards,” Walton said after Tuesday night’s exhibition. “So we’ve really tried to prepare our players through our preseason to not really focus on the opponent, to always try to do a good job of focusing on who we are and what we do and not really get too far ahead.”
Follow Payton on Twitter @petitus25 and contact her at [email protected].