Notebook: Softball could win SEC
Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.
With four softball teams — No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 11 Missouri and No. 12 LSU — still in the running for the 2013 Southeastern Conference title heading into the final weekend of the regular season, there will be a lot of eyes watching SEC results.
UF head coach Tim Walton, however, is making sure his surprising young Gators (47-6, 16-5), who were supposed to be in a rebuilding year and were picked to finish fourth in the SEC East and seventh overall, stay zeroed-in on what has gotten them to this point.
“We're focusing just on us,” Walton said.
“The regular season at home is over, and we've accomplished a lot of great things. The good part about it is that we as a coaching staff and the players have really just been talking about one game at a time and taking the situation one inning at a time and one at-bat at a time. They've really done a good job with that.”
The Gators took two-of-three from No. 23 Georgia to close out their regular-season home schedule over the weekend and stay in contention for their first SEC crown since 2009 while eliminating the Bulldogs (35-18, 12-9).
“I'm really proud of the way we're playing and really proud of the way we're competing,” Walton said.
“We're putting a nice product on the field that is very fun to watch, but more importantly, I think we've got a team full of good people playing together, and it was clear to see that this past weekend.”
Tennessee (42-7, 15-4), which had its 19-game winning streak ended Friday in a 2-1 home loss to No. 25 Arkansas and then had the remainder of the series rained out, still sits atop the SEC East and overall standings by a very slim margin over the Gators in winning percentage (.789 to .762).
SEC West champion LSU (40-11, 15-6) and league newcomer Missouri (29-9, 13-7) are also still very much alive.
UF closes out its regular-season slate with a three-game series at South Carolina this weekend. The Gamecocks (30-20, 7-14) have won six straight and eight of their last nine to move into a tie with Auburn and Mississippi State for the 10th and final spot in this year's SEC Tournament.
Meanwhile, Tennessee visits Missouri and LSU travels to Georgia.
“I think it's cool, just looking at it as a fan,” Walton said of the tight race. “I just hope it gets taken care of on the field. You hope everybody gets to play their three games this weekend.”
Fresh off winning their fourth straight SEC Tournament title to go with their fourth straight SEC regular-season crown, the two-time defending national champion Gators are gearing up for another deep NCAA Tournament run.
UF (22-2), which has won 15 matches in a row and dropped only five combined points over that span, has risen to the No. 1 ranking in the nation and will host first- and second-round NCAA matches in Gainesville, something that's become a ritual for the Gators.
The official NCAA field will be announced today at 5:30 p.m., with the possibility that the No. 15 Gator men will also be selected to host as one of the top 16 overall seeds.
“We love playing at home,” head coach Roland Thornqvist said.
“I was telling the players the other day when we walked out to practice, there's some bush there that has flowers that smelled like NCAA time around here. That is so cool to me. The pollen is out, the love bugs are swarming, I mean, I love that stuff.”
“It's the best time of the year, really. It gets hot and sticky, and it's Florida tennis time.”
“We're hoping the guys (UF men) host it with us, and we can bring a lot of teams here and a lot of energy. That's what it's all about.”