GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As the Florida softball team prepares to be a Super Regionals host for the fifth consecutive season, memories of last season’s upset loss are bound to resurface, even if just for a moment.
There was Florida, the two-time defending national champion seeking to become the third school to get a three-peat in Division I softball. And then there was Georgia, a conference rival that ended the Gators’ season with a two-out, pinch-hit, walk-off home run to center field.
All the Gators could do was watch in shock as the Bulldogs rejoiced at home plate.
Last year’s Super Regional sweep stung for this year’s upperclassmen — the juniors and seniors who experienced the joys of winning a national championship — and it adds motivation for the Gators to get back to Oklahoma City. They know the pressure is there, but they’re not letting it faze them.
“Losing always sucks,” junior Nicole DeWitt said. “You don’t ever want to just lose. It does suck that we didn’t win that game [last year], but it’s nobody’s fault. We needed to score more runs that game, but I think just getting to this weekend, we want to come out and play softball. We know what we have to do.”
In the simplest terms, top-seeded Florida (53-7) must win two of its three games at home against No. 16 seed and fellow SEC competitor Alabama (45-16) if it wants to return to the Women’s College World Series and compete for a third national championship in four years. The series begins at 7 p.m. Thursday with Game 2 at 7 p.m. Friday and Game 3, if necessary, at 5 p.m. Saturday. All times are ET.
But more than likely it won’t be that simple. The Crimson Tide won six of their past seven games entering Thursday’s series opener. That includes back-to-back 1-0 wins over Minnesota, ranked No. 1 in the country in the latest NFCA poll, to advance out of Regionals. Starting pitcher Alexis Osorio is sixth nationally with 318 strikeouts.
“Everybody is good once you get to Super Regionals,” sophomore outfielder Amanda Lorenz said. “We just need to learn from [last year] and I think it adds perspective. Before I got here, I thought it was easy to host a Regional. I thought it was easy to be in Super Regionals.”
This year, Florida learned that it’s not easy to advance out of Regionals after being forced into a winner-take-all game against Oklahoma State on Sunday. The Gators felt pressure early this postseason, just like they did throughout the regular season. Now, they are hoping it propels them forward as they try to reach Oklahoma City.
“It’s just going to drive us more,” Lorenz said. “We’re really hyped. We’re just really excited for this moment. The pressure is absolutely a privilege. We’re only one of 16 teams who got to practice today. We’re only one of 16 teams that still gets to play this weekend.”