UF-Bama continue rivalry

Florida coach Tim Walton talks to freshman Kristi Merritt during an 11-0 Florida win over Presbyterian College at Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium on Sunday.

Brett Le Blanc/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 11:44 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 11:44 a.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Tim Walton, softball coach of the Florida Gators, approached Alabama coach Patrick Murphy more than a year ago with the idea of setting up a game.


No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Florida

When: 7 p.m.
Where: Rhoads Stadium
Records: Florida 22-1, Alabama 22-0
Radio: 104.9 FM

With the expansion of the Southeastern Conference to include Missouri and Texas A&M, increasing the league to 13 softball-playing schools, the SEC schedule starting this season will no longer have each school playing every other league member. Alabama vs. Florida, the SEC's hottest rivalry for the last several years, wasn't on the slate for this season.

“I said, ‘Let me call you back,' ” Murphy recalled. “Within five minutes I said, ‘This is silly,' and I called him back and said, ‘Let's do it.' ”

That game will be played today, with the fourth-ranked Gators playing No. 1-ranked Alabama in a matchup with national ramifications, although it won't count in the SEC standings.

“I thought it was good mentally for our team to play at a great venue against a great team, and good for softball in general,” Walton said. “It's one of the best softball rivalries in the country, and I thought it would be a shame not to play it.”

Florida is opening SEC play at Auburn this weekend. With the Gators on spring break, a swing up to Tuscaloosa was a natural.

“It worked out perfect,” Walton said. “We don't miss school, and it was a perfect opportunity to go on a Wednesday and play.

“It's truly good for both teams to play as good a schedule as possible. That was my thought when you looked at who we play in conference and who we don't play.”

Murphy likes the idea so much that he has scheduled a game against Auburn next year in Montgomery, which also won't count in league standings.

“If Georgia and I could have done it this year, we probably would have done the same thing, but we couldn't work it out,” Murphy said. “LSU and Ole Miss did it this year, and I'll definitely do it in the future. That's four teams we don't play (each year), and some of them are within driving distance.

“I think another thing we're going to try to do is, some of the teams we don't play, bring them here for a tournament like we've done in the past and maybe play them one time instead of not playing them.”

Regardless of the outcome, Alabama and Florida help each other's strength of schedule just by playing each other.

“It's huge,” Murphy said. “That's the best nonconference game of the year.

“I give (Walton) credit for making the call. It was great for both schools and it's good for softball.”

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.

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