GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida softball team begins its quest for a third national title in four years Friday when it faces Florida A&M. The first game of regional competition in the NCAA Tournament is scheduled for at 2:30 p.m. ET.
The Gators (50-6) are the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament for the third conscutive year and the fifth time since the NCAA started seeding the top-16 teams in 2006. No other team has held the top spot in the NCAA Softball Tournament more than once.
“There’s a lot to be said about doing something like that,” coach Tim Walton said. “That tells you a lot about your whole body of work. That tells you about what you did all season long from February all the way until May. I don’t know that it’s helped us in some of the seeding process, but I do know that you can’t take that stuff away from our team.”
As the top overall seed, Florida is a regional host for the 12th time in as many years under Walton, who became Gators coach in 2006 . Florida seeks its 10th appearance in the Women’s College World Series. Before Walton arrived, the Gators never made it past the regional round.
Here’s a quick look at highlights of Florida’s postseason success under Walton.
2006: First postseason appearance under Walton
Offense was hard to come by in Walton’s inaugural postseason with the Gators. No. 16 seed Florida had 9 hits and 1 run over 3 games. The Gators lost their NCAA regional opener to Florida Atlantic 2-0, defeated North Carolina 1-0 in eight innings in the loser’s bracket and then lost 1-0 in an FAU rematch.
2007: First super regional berth
After three shutout victories in the Gainesville Regional, the No. 13 seed Gators lost 2 of 3 to No. 4-seeded Texas A&M in College Station. The season end a win short of the Women’s College World Series.
2008: First No. 1 overall seed and WCWS berth
With the No. 1 overall seed for the first time in program history, Florida made a quick run through two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Gators made it to Oklahoma City for the first time in Walton’s third year. After a 3-2 extra-inning loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida won beat Virginia Tech and UCLA to face Texas A&M for a berth in the championship series. The Gators needed two wins to advance. They defeated the Aggies 6-1 before losing the second game of the doubleheader 1-0 in nine innings.
2009: First championship series appearance
The Gators continued their progression in Walton’s fourth season, sweeping through regionals, super regionals and the double elimination bracket of the Women’s College World Series to advance to the championship series against Washington. That’s as far as the Gators would get — the Huskies beat Florida 8-0 and 3-2 to win the national title.
2014: The first national title
The Gators advanced to the Women’s College World Series three times over the next four years, and this was their breakthrough year. Relying mostly on senior pitcher Hannah Rogers in Oklahoma City, the No. 5-seeded Gators went 6-0, collecting four shutouts and outscoring opponents 32-6 en route to the school’s first national championship.
Florida used a similar formula to clinch its second consecutive national championship. Walton relied on senior pitcher Lauren Haeger as his team went 10-1 in the NCAA Tournament, capped by a 4-1 win over Michigan in Game 3 of the Women’s College World Series championship series.
2016: Back to reality
Florida, a No. 1 seed for the second consecutive season, seemed poised to make a deep run and claim its third consecutive national title. Those dreams, however, shattered in the super regionals against No. 16-seeded and SEC rival Georgia. The Bulldogs swept the Gators by scores of 3-0 and 3-2 in Gainesville. Florida’s elimination came on a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.