Monday, April 19, 2010
It is quite amazing what the Florida softball program has accomplished under head coach Tim Walton, with back to back appearances in the College World Series and a second place finish nationally a year ago.
But many believed this year the softball program would suffer because of the loss of great players like Stacey Nelson, one of the best pitchers EVER in college softball, and veteran players like infielder Ali Gardiner and outfielder Kim Waleszonia who did so much to put Florida softball on the national map. Florida was an incredible 63-5 last year.
Well, don't look now, but this Gator softball team is doing just fine, thank you.
Despite the player losses, through games of this past Sunday, the Gators are atop the SEC standings with a 14-3 record and an overall record of 34-5. This group has developed its own identity, an identity that features the home run and an offense that could shatter school records this year.
In part, this is because the game of women's college softball is changing; kids are playing at younger ages and the game that used to feature 1-0 games as routinely as the sun comes up now features much more hitting and runs being scored and that has translated into the sport becoming as popular as ever.
As I write this, the average earned run average in the SEC is now 2.89 and that includes only one school, LSU, with an ERA of less than two runs a game. I think the pitching is a little down in the SEC this year but it also shows directly that the game of women's college softball is becoming an offensive game.
And Florida is the poster team for offense. The Gators hit .330 as a team and they've hit 76 homers, on pace to shatter the school record. Senior Francesca Enea leads the SEC with 17 homers and in rbi wih 54 and hits .382. Michelle Moultrie is hitting .408 while Megan Bush and Brittany Schutte are in double digits in home runs.
This isn't pretty softball, it's the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots Gator softball edition in 2010 that beats you down with a powerful offense that averages over seven runs a game, good enough pitching and a defense that is second in the SEC.
The result has been sustained success, huge crowds that come out and support the program, and a brand of softball that those fans love to watch. And winning doesn't hurt either.
I don't know if Florida can make a third straight trip to the College World Series but the Gators are certainly on pace to make a run at an SEC title and host an NCAA Regional and if you win that, you never know what can happen in a Super Regional. The worry would be that a superior pitcher could stop the Gator hitters as Washington did last year but this might be a better offensive team than last year's group and if the Gators can get enough pitching of its own, Oklahoma City might be within reach.
Gator softball is indeed alive and well...if you don't believe me, go out and watch for yourself. You'll be glad you did.