The Florida Gator softball team is just two games away from booking a trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City for the third straight year. They host the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA Super Regional this weekend. Starting catcher Aubree Munro admitted that the team is trying to avoid playing a third game at all costs.
“There’s less kind of anxiety. Last year against Washington, we had to play the ‘what-if’ game. There’s added stress and just anxious feelings with that. It’s just easy to come in and win twice.”
The Gators have had success against the Wildcats this year, sweeping them at home with a combined score of 9-3. Two of the games though were tight from beginning to end because of Kentucky’s ace Kelsey Nunley. Nunley only allowed three earned runs in two complete games against the Gators. She has a 2.39 ERA on the year with 187 strikeouts in nearly 200 innings pitched. Munro believes as long as the Gators win, it doesn’t matter how they do it.
“We just got to be aggressive. Stay off her rise ball stuff and just try to produce runs. That’s all we got to do. It doesn’t matter how we do it, just want to win.”
The problem Kentucky has is their offense. They have not been consistent at any time this year which doesn’t help their stellar pitching. The Wildcats have only scored double-digit runs twice this year while the Gators have 13 such games. Kentucky’s best hitter is Nikki Sagermann who currently owns a .308 batting average. Florida has six players that are above that mark. Outfielder Justine McLean though says the Gators are not going to take them lightly.
“I think they are going to come out and play hard. I think since we beat them in the conference series, they are going to come out here with a little bit of fight and a little bit of edge. I think we need to be ready for that and not take any pitch off.”
Florida got through the NCAA Regional with what has been working all year and that is pitching. Pitchers Lauren Haeger and Aleshia Ocasio did not allow a single run to FAMU, Hofstra or FAU. Ocasio even tied the Gator single-game strikeout record with 17 against FAMU. Head coach Tim Walton did not have to get bullpen help at all from Delanie Gourley, who has recently been used strictly as a relief pitcher.
However, in their most recent game against FAU, the Gators needed extra innings to get the single run they needed to win. Walton says it’s in the past and they need to focus on what’s ahead of them.
“Kelsey Nunley doesn’t give up a lot of home runs. So you got to keep the ball out of the air, you really got to do a good job of trying to be on time. She really can get on your hands pretty good and the off-speed pitch she is featuring this year is a lot better than what she has done in the past.”
First pitch Saturday is at 1 p.m. Game 2 gets underway on Sunday at noon and if a third game is necessary it will start at 3 p.m. With a series win, the Gators inch closer to winning back-to-back titles.
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