Special to Gatorsports.com
OKLAHOMA CITY — Florida coach Tim Walton has a simple mentality when it comes to winning games — if the other team doesn’t score, his team can’t lose.
“I know it sounds silly, but it’s obvious,” Walton said. “When our pitching staff shuts people out, we win. I’m really proud of not only their preparation and their work ethic, but their confidence in not only themselves, their catcher, their defense and our pitching coach.”
The top-seeded Gators (57-8) have used Walton’s thought process a school-record 40 times this season, a huge reason they are in the Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The two latest shutouts, an 8-0 win over Texas A&M on Thursday and 7-0 over LSU on Friday, put the Gators in today’s 1 p.m. semifinal against six-seed Washington (51-13) and gave them a day off on elimination Saturday. Defending national champion Oklahoma (58-9) is also in the semifinals today.
“The greatest position to be in in the College World Series is be on an off day on Saturday,” Walton said.
Florida leads the country in shutouts this season and its total is the most by a Division I team since 2007 (41, Arizona). The Gators improved to 26-6 overall against opponents ranked inside the Top 25 with 19 shutouts.
UF ace Kelly Barnhill (26-3, 0.34 ERA), USA Softball’s Player of the Year, helped put the Gators within a win of a spot in the championship series that starts Monday. Barnhill threw a two-hitter with eight strikeouts in beating LSU. Barnhill threw four scoreless innings in the rout of Texas A&M.
“Didn’t have quite as many butterflies as yesterday with the first start in the arena with so many people out there, but I just really tried to go out there and just play pitch by pitch,” Barnhill said.
Walton’s pitching staff is set up for the long haul. The Gators didn’t even use Delanie Gourley (21-4, 0.67), an All-American who is among the nation’s leaders in earned run average, Friday after pitching a scoreless inning Thursday. And the Gators would have to lose twice today to be eliminated.
The Gators also have it working at the plate. In outscoring their first two opponents 15-0, the Gators have collected 17 hits, including four doubles and three home runs.
“Just really finally hitting (our) stride, but I think more than anything, just gained a little bit of confidence and going up there it actually looks like we’re trying to get some hits,” Walton said. “I think Delanie Gourley said it the other night the best on stage at the opening event. This team, there is no pecking order, we’ve got a lot of great players on this team and a lot of great kids on this team, and I think they really are showing how much they care for each other by playing well on this stage.”