SEC Country/file
Florida ace Kelly Barnhill and the Gators host an NCAA Regional this weekend.

Florida softball starts postseason push Friday in NCAA Regionals

Ryan Young

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Gators are looking to build on 2017 national runner-up finish

The Florida softball team’s four seniors have run the full gamut of postseason experiences during their time with the program.

Senior third baseman Nicole DeWitt, first baseman Kayli Kvistad, outfielder/pitcher Aleshia Ocasio and catcher Janell Wheaton were part of a national championship team in 2015, endured some postseason disappointment in the 2016 NCAA Super Regionals and finished as the national runner-up last year.

They know which of those outcomes they hope to repeat in their final opportunity, as the SEC champion Gators (50-8) open NCAA Regional play at home Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET against Bethune-Cookman (31-24).

“I’m a senior now and throughout these four years we’ve kind of had a taste of everything,” Ocasio said. “Coming in freshman year and winning it all and then not making it to the World Series and then losing it in the championship [last year]. But we also have newcomers who haven’t experienced it yet, so some of us are just sharing our experiences and letting them know what needs to happen … to get to the championship series.”

The No. 2-seeded Gators are also hosting South Florida (38-21) and Ohio State (34-14) as part of the four-team, double-elimination bracket. See here for more details.

Florida swept both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships this year and will look to continue that momentum this weekend while taking the first step toward its lofty goals.

“I think the ability to have four seniors that have played in every type of meaningful game and have played a big role in every type of meaningful game we’ve played in over the past three-plus years is something you can’t measure,” Florida coach Tim Walton said.

That said, the Gatos aren’t making any assumptions.

“You can’t take anybody lightly because you never know what’s going to happen,” Ocasio said.

The game Friday night at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium is available on ESPN3 and WatchESPN.

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In Florida football news

  • SEC Country’s “Next Generation” series launched Thursday with an in-depth look at how Florida pried 4-star defensive end Malik Langham out of Alabama and away from coach Nick Saban. Langham also has an interesting football back story, not really taking to the sport until his sophomore year of high school while quickly emerging as a coveted recruit. Read the full story here.

Recruiting roundup

  • Florida has three top 100 Class of 2019 recruits set to visit this weekend for the inaugural Great Gator Grill Out. Nathan Pickering, a defensive end from Seminary, Miss., and defensive backs Chris Steele (Bellflower, Calif.) and Tyrique Stevenson (Miami) highlight the list of prospects set to attend. Read more here.
  • The Chomp Chat podcast also discusses the Gators’ new recruiting event.
  • SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi breaks down the “realistic O’line targets” for the Gators.

Florida baseball drops opener at Mississippi State

  • No. 1 Florida received a season-best pitching performance from freshman Tommy Mace, making his first SEC start Thursday night, but it wasn’t enough as the Gators lost 6-3 in the series opener at Mississippi State. The Gators dropped to 41-13 overall and 20-8 in the SEC and still need a win or an Arkansas loss to claim the outright SEC regular-season title.
  • Mace allowed just 1 run and 3 hits over 6 1/3 innings. He finished with 5 strikeouts and 0 walks after entering the day with a 5.49 ERA. He had not thrown more than 4 innings in any game all season. Mace got the start as Florida elected to keep Friday and Saturday starters Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar on their regular days. “In the grand scheme of things, he threw outstanding, even more than I thought,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I probably could have left him in there in the seventh, but I was really trying to be careful about him coming away feeling good about himself because we’ll really need him down the stretch. He gave up 3 hits over 6 1/3 and I thought he was outstanding, and that’s exactly what we needed. That’s kind of what we got last year from Tyler Dyson; it was a shot in the arm down the stretch.”
  • Florida led 3-0 entering the seventh inning before Mississippi State scored 2 in the bottom of the inning and 4 more runs in the eighth to take control. Closer Michael Byrne had a rare off night, giving up a 2-run triple to Jake Mangum and a 2-run homer to Tanner Allen in that eighth inning.
  • Offensively, Austin Langworthy hit his first home run of the season, becoming the 11th Florida player to leave the yard this spring. He was the only Gators player to have multiple hits Thursday, finishing 2 for 3.

  • The second game of the series is set for 7 p.m. ET Friday with Singer (10-1, 2.25 ERA) on the mound opposite Bulldogs LHP Ethan Small (5-3, 2.75).

Men’s tennis in NCAA Tournament

  • The Florida men’s tennis team takes on Ole Miss at 7 p.m. Friday in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 16. The match takes place in Winston-Salem, N.C., but fans can watch live here.

What they’re saying on Twitter

  • Four Florida football freshmen are getting a jump-start on their summer studies and acclimation to campus:

  • Cool stat for Gators junior running back Lamical Perine:

  • Florida tight end C’yontai Lewis counting down the days:

  • As fun as this looks, hopefully it won’t be a recurring site this weekend:

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