FLORIDA ATHLETICS NOTEBOOK
Notebook: Softball wins third SEC title under Walton
Published: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
It took a great effort and some help from SEC newcomer Missouri, but when the dust finally had settled from the last regular-season league game Sunday, the Florida Gators were conference champions for the first time since 2009.
The title is just the fourth in history for the Gators and the third under coach Tim Walton.
“Anytime you go into a final weekend series with an opportunity to win a championship, it's good,” Walton said. “It's not only good for our team, but it's good for the sport and good for our league. We're excited about representing the SEC with the championship and representing the University of Florida as well. We went to South Carolina with high hopes, and we played well.”
Florida took two of three games from the Gamecocks to win the series, making the Gators the only league team to win all eight of their conference series this season.
No. 2 UF (49-7, 18-6) began the final weekend trailing league-leader Tennessee by mere percentage points for both the SEC East and overall titles, but by winning their series with South Carolina, combined with No. 11 Missouri (33-10, 15-8) taking two of three from the No. 3 Vols (43-9, 16-6), claimed the overall crown as well as their sixth SEC East title – five coming in the last six seasons under Walton.
The fact UF did it with one of its youngest teams simply made it all the more sweeter.
“We've lost this conference before by less than a game, and we've lost by percentage points,” Walton said. “Last year, it came down to the last day and if you win, you win the championship, but we lost and we came in third. For this young team with so many freshmen playing, this is a big deal, and we're going to make it a big deal to win an SEC championship.”
UF will be the No. 1 seed for this week's SEC Tournament that starts Wednesday in Lexington, Ky.
The second-ranked Gators were unable to defend their American Lacrosse Conference Tournament title, falling to defending NCAA champion Northwestern 8-3 in the tourney final Sunday in Baltimore, Md.
UF downed Ohio State, 17-3, in the ALC Tournament semifinals before falling to the Wildcats, a team the Gators throttled 22-4 in their regular-season finale.
Despite the loss, UF (17-2), which last year advanced to its first NCAA semifinal, earned the No. 5 seed for this year's tourney and will host first- and second-round action at Dizney Stadium this weekend.
“We had a really nice win over Ohio State Friday,” coach Amanda O'Leary said. “I think the thing with Northwestern that we always talk about is draw controls, and in the first game against them, we dominated draw controls. This game, unfortunately, they dominated us, so we spent a lot of time on the defensive end. Ultimately, the better team was Northwestern, that's for sure.”
As one of the top six overall seeds, UF received a first-round bye and will take on the winner of Friday's opening match at 4 p.m. between No. 11 Denver and Jacksonville in second-round action Sunday at noon.
The Pioneers (17-2) and Dolphins (13-5) are making their first NCAA Tournament appearances, while this is the third NCAA postseason venture for the Gators.
TRACK & FIELD
The top-ranked Florida men and third-ranked women are headed to Columbia, Mo., for the SEC Outdoor Championships on Thursday through Sunday.
Last year, the UF men, who went on to win the program's first NCAA Outdoors title, recorded their fifth straight top-four league finish, while the women claimed runner-up honors.
Both are among the favorites for this year's SEC titles, with the Gator men expected to battle No. 2 Texas A&M and No. 4 Arkansas for the crown, while the UF women will get a stiff test from top-ranked Texas A&M, No. 4 LSU and No. 6 Arkansas.
“Obviously this is a very exciting time of the year for us,” coach Mike Holloway said. “As I've said on many occasions, I think this meet is the most exciting competition I have ever attended.
“We seem to embrace the excitement and the competitiveness of the competition, and I think we'll be fine. We're as healthy as we've been all year going into a championship situation, and I'm excited to see what happens.”