Florida softball has momentum on its side
Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 6:35 p.m.
Momentum is a funny thing. You never know what will cause it to be generated.
2013 NFCA All-Southeast Region
No. 2 Florida vs. Hampton, 6 p.m., 104.9 FM
For Florida's softball team, the momentum they carry into Friday's opening round of the NCAA Tournament comes from a day when they didn't do anything.
Almost two weeks ago, the Gators finished their SEC schedule and a day later Missouri beat Tennessee. That meant Florida would be crowned the SEC's regular-season champions.
“It was like a five-hour energy drink,” said Florida coach Tim Walton. “It was like the biggest shot in the arm. We carried that over to our practices and the way we played in the SEC Tournament.
“It was automatic adrenaline. I felt that way, and when I watched our team come to the yard I was watching them and it was, wow, these girls understand what they have accomplished and it carried over to our practices and our games.”
Walton has seen it this week in practices as well and hopes it carries over to the regional. Florida plays Hampton Friday at 6 p.m. while South Florida and Georgia Southern open play at 3:30 p.m.
Many of Florida's players were hanging around a pool at a local apartment complex listening to the Tennessee-Missouri game, said sophomore Lauren Haeger.
“Just getting that second chance at the SEC title was so exciting,” Haeger said. “We all just dogpiled into the pool. Just knowing that we won, we wanted to make a statement and show that we deserved it.”
Florida, the No. 2 national seed, will be trying this weekend to return to a super regional after being eliminated by South Florida in Gainesville a year ago. Prior to 2012, the Gators had been to four straight Women's College World Series.
For several of the UF players, this is their first shot at an NCAA Tournament. That includes UF's leading hitter Kelsey Stewart, who is batting .398.
“I'm really excited,” Stewart said. “This is the best part of the season. We're ready to kick some butt.”
Stewart wasn't around for the disappointing end to last season, but it has come up.
“It's in the back of our minds,” she said. “But coach said that it's irrelevant as far as this year's team goes. We're trying to take this year's team and do something special with it.”
To do something special, Florida will first have to get past a Hampton team that won the MEAC tournament on Saturday in Ormond Beach. Hampton has won 14 of its last 16 games.
“We know when we're all together we can play great,” said Hager, who has 17 homers and 15 wins in the circle this season. “We mesh so well and we're having so much fun. Somebody is going to make a play and it's a different person every day.
“It makes a really big difference having our fans. I love pitching and hitting with our fans around.”