Softball mission: Experienced Gators know what it takes

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Florida senior Aleshia Ocasio and her teammates are looking to get back to the Women's College World Series. [Lauren Bacho/Staff photographer]

Last year, they finished No. 2 in the country.

This year, they start the postseason as the No. 2 team in NCAA Regionals.

But the only number that matters is one.

As in one game.

The one tonight.

The rest is noise in the system. Yep, they want to get back to Oklahoma City. Sure, they plan to be back at home next week for Super Regionals.

But for a Gator softball team thick with experience, the Women’s College World Series might as well be in August.

“We have to play every day like it’s our last day,” said senior Kayli Kvistad. “It is hard (not to look ahead). You hear it outside with the fans, ‘Oh, we can’t wait to see you in the World Series,’ but we have important weekends ahead of us.

“We’re playing Bethune-Cookman. That’s all you can worry about.”

The Gators face the Wildcats tonight at 7:30 after Ohio State and South Florida tangle in the first game of the Gainesville Regional.

“You don’t even go game by game,” said junior pitcher Kelly Barnhill, “you go pitch by pitch.”

This Florida team brings more than just its high seeding to the tournament.

For one thing, the Gators are coming off the quiniela of winning both the regular season and tournament in a conference that got all of its 13 teams into the NCAAs.

“Basically, every weekend is a Super Regional in the SEC,” said junior Amanda Lorenz. “It makes it easier for us to control our heartbeats in the big moments.”

And then there is the advantage Florida has over the rest of the four-team field in that the four senior starters have seen it all. National championship as freshmen, lose a Super Regional as sophomores, make the national final as juniors.

It’s quite a resume. Especially when you add in four straight SEC titles for the four seniors.

“They’ve played in every type of meaningful game and that’s something you can’t measure,” said Florida coach Tim Walton. “They’ve done it all. They know exactly what needs to be done.

“It’s definitely a dream come true for a coach to have them.”

That veteran experience shows up on the way this team has played all season, a combination of razor-sharp focus and frivolity.

“We know how to keep it loose and have fun,” Lorenz said. “We know how to set the mood across the whole team.”

There could be plenty of time for mood swings this weekend with rain forecast all three days. Again, that’s where having a group of older players who have sat through their share of rain delays can be a plus.

“Just win,” Walton said about the possibility of a disrupted schedule. “Win. A couple of our players asked me, ‘What if? What if? Whatever. You just have to win.”


NCAA Gainesville Regional

at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium

Today

Ohio State (34-14) vs. South Florida (34-14), 5 p.m., ESPNU

No. 2 Florida (50-8) vs. Bethune-Cookman (31-24), 7:30 p.m., 92.1-FM/1230-AM

Saturday

Game 3 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 2:30 p.m.

Game 4 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 5 p.m.

Game 5 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday

Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 12 p.m.

x-Game 7 — Game 6 opponents, 2:30 p.m.


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