Gators play host to four Florida teams in NCAA regional


Host Florida enters the 2012 NCAA Gainesville Regional as the top seed and favorite to advance.

Steven H. Keys/ Correspondent/ File
Published: Friday, May 18, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 at 1:35 a.m.

Host Florida enters the 2012 NCAA Gainesville Regional as the top seed and favorite to advance.

Facts

GAINESVILLE REGIONAL

Today
Game 1: USF vs. UCF, 3:30 p.m.
Game 2: Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast, 6 p.m.
Saturday
Game 3: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 3:30 p.m.
Game 5: Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 6 p.m.
Sunday
Game 6: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5, 1 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5, if necessary, 3:30 p.m.

Yet in a regional field with all in-state teams, Florida softball coach Tim Walton said he doesn't expect any game to come easy.

“All four teams are capable of getting hot and winning this region,” Walton said. “I think all four teams are very well prepared, played a good schedule and I think all four teams have good pitching.”

The Gators (46-11) will open regional play today at 6 p.m. at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium against Florida Gulf Coast University. USF and UCF will play in the earlier game at 3:30 p.m.

Florida lost to both USF and UCF during the regular season. UCF shut out the Gators 2-0 on April 11 while Florida dropped a 4-1 game to USF on March 28.

“Our players may hopefully have a little chip on their shoulders because we did lose to those teams in the regular season,” Walton said. “We haven't lost to a lot of Florida teams throughout the last seven years. I think it says a lot about parity and where college softball is at. All four teams have had a really nice season.”

Last season, Florida had to get past UCLA to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals.

“I like it,” Florida sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle said. “I'd rather see a team that we've faced before rather than a random team coming in.”

Florida senior outfielder Michelle Moultrie said the familiarity of the in-state teams stretches down to the players. Some of them have played on the same high school and travel-league teams before college.

“It's a little bit more of a challenge because you know their pitchers. We've played them before,” Moultrie said. “And they know you.”

The Gators haven't faced FGCU since a 5-0 win Feb. 12 in a tournament in Tampa. Walton said he hasn't decided on a starting pitcher for today's game against the Eagles, mulling between starters Hannah Rogers and Lauren Haeger. The Gators have been tough in the pitching circle all season, posting a 1.44 team ERA with 340 strikeouts.

“They have both pitched well,” Walton said. “I'm really happy, when you have two weapons like that.”

FGCU will likely counter with former Santa Fe High standout Shelby Morgan. The High Springs native earned Atlantic Sun Conference pitcher of the year honors, going 22-6 with a 1.38 ERA and nine shutouts.

Morgan won't be the only former area standout making a homecoming this weekend. UCF senior shortstop Natalie Land, a former Lafayette High star, is winding down a successful college softball career. Land leads the Knights in batting (.341), home runs (8) and stolen bases (41).

Land fondly recalled UCF's upset of Florida in April.

“It was amazing to play a top team like Florida and beat them,” Land told the school's website. “We came so close to beating them last year and this season there was a sense of urgency there for us. To finish it off and win it this time, it was a great feeling.”

While pitching and defense have been strong for the Gators all season, hitting has been another story. The Gators are batting .293 as a team, but have left 362 runners on base this season, an average of more than 6 per game.

“It's going to come down to who can get the clutch hit,” Walton said. “That's the key in this kind of tournament.”

Walton said the Gators spent extra time this week working in the batting cage after UF's 10-1 loss to Alabama in the SEC Tournament finals.

Returning home also should help. The Gators are 24-4 at Pressly Stadium this season.

“When the crowd is behind you, you want to get that extra run in or runs on the board to begin with,” Coyle said. “It provides more energy if you are lacking it.”

Florida, the fifth overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, is attempting to reach the College World Series for the fifth straight season. It's an unprecedented string of success for UF, the kind that an in-state rival would love to break.

“Everyone in your state wants to beat you,” Florida junior catcher Brittany Schutte said. “So it will be tough games.”

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