Tim Walton has spent most of the year trying to figure out his Florida softball team.
He hopes that last weekend was its true identity.
The Gators (44-15) start NCAA tournament play today at 3:15 p.m. at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in the Gainesville Regional. Boise State defeated Stanford 9-1 in the other first-round game that started at noon.
Will it be the Gator team that was up-and-down all season or the one that won four straight games at College Station, Texas, to capture the SEC Tournament and earn a No. 5 national seed?
“This team has been a little bit of a mystery to me at times,” Walton said on the eve of regional play. “If each person in that dugout understands how to compete a little bit better and keep things more normal, we have a chance to get to the College World Series.
“We have the talent. We haven’t always shown it. I know what it takes and it looks a lot like last weekend.”
Florida got a dominant three games from pitcher Kelly Barnhill and clutch hits throughout the lineup at the SECs, the latter which had been lacking at times this season.
“We definitely liked College Station,” said senior slugger Amanda Lorenz. “We want to bring that same energy and vibes back to Gainesville.”
Lorenz, at .421 with 40 RBIs, and Kendyl Lindaman, .341 and 51 RBIs, have carried the offense all season. But there were signs of life during the SEC tournament with players such as Jordan Matthews, Jordan Roberts and Hannah Adams delivering big hits.
“We’ve gotta do a good job swinging the bats,” Walton said. “We just need three people to do it. We don’t need seven, we don’t need nine.
“If we get what we had last week, we’re going to be really tough to beat.”
For Lorenz and Barnhill, this will be their last regional, although Florida would host Super Regionals if the Gators advance. Still, the top two picks in softball’s professional draft are thinking about their final rodeo.
“I’ve just tried to leave the last one as Senior Day,” Lorenz said. “This is another game. I’ve been focusing on making every memory count. And postseason is the best time.”
For the seniors, it’s four-for-four as far as hosting regionals.
“The time definitely flies,” Barnhill said. “It seems like just yesterday we were looking around. ‘Oh my gosh, we’re in regional. Oh my gosh, we’re in super regionals. Oh my gosh, we have a chance to go to the World Series.
“It’s a cliche, but time flies, especially when you’re playing the game you love with people you love.”
Like Florida, Boston (37-18) swept through its conference tournament to get here and get a chance to play in the warm glow of the Florida sun.
“We’ve been pretty resilient,” Boston coach Ashley Waters said. “Florida can attest to the fact that you gotta play your best at the end of the year. They got hot at the right time and so did we.
“Florida is one of those teams you continuously see. (Lorenz and Barnhill) have set themselves apart. We know what we’re getting, and that’s two of the best in the country.
“This is what you play for, to play against the best and see how you compare with them.”
Walton said he hasn’t decided if Barnhill will throw the opener, but she has had plenty of rest with the final SEC tourney game being Saturday night.
NCAA Gainesville Regional
At Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium
Boise State 9, Stanford 1
Florida 3, Boston University 0
Game 3 — Boise State (35-14) vs. Florida (45-15, 2 p.m.
Game 4 — Stanford (32-19) vs. Boston U. (37-19), 4:30 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.