When more than 20 former Florida softball alumni flock to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Saturday to catch a Gator game against Alabama, they might notice one thing: this has a chance at being the best softball team the Orange and Blue has ever fielded.
The Gators (33-1, 8-1 SEC) are set to continue their domination over the SEC when the Crimson Tide (29-6, 3-3 SEC) roll into town for a three-game weekend series. Listing the series of accolades that follows the Gators wherever they go takes longer than the team needs to pummel their opponents. Florida is riding a seven-game winning streak where they’ve outscored opponents 31-4 (including series sweeps of No.7 LSU and No.16 Tennessee). Alabama, meanwhile, is entering the meat of their SEC schedule having won three of their last five, but are 3-4 against ranked opponents in March.
The Tide need to figure out how to quiet the Gator bats, especially sophomore Kayli Kvistad, who leads the team in average (.420), RBI (35) and is tied for the team lead in home runs (5). And if Alabama figures out how to do that? Well, then comes the hard part.
— Gator Softball (@GatorsSB) March 31, 2016
Florida’s pitching is the reason they’ve won 33 of 34 games this season and it’s led by the hydra of Kelly Barnhill, Delanie Gourley and Aleshia Ocasio. Head coach Tim Walton says that each of these pitchers are interchangeable and they’re all dangerous because they have one thing in common. Even scarier for Alabama is that you never know which pitcher will dominate you. Barnhill, a freshman, is sixth in the SEC in strikeouts (106) and first in opposing batting average (.134). Gourley, a junior, is right behind Barnhill in opposing batting average (.138), has only allowed eight runs (0.78 ERA) and struck out 102 batters. And how about Ocasio, who just won SEC Pitcher of the Week? All she’s done is lead the nation in ERA (0.36) by allowing four runs in 78.2 innings. Walton is proud of how his team has handled this season’s overwhelming success.
The Gators will need that pitching to lock down Alabama’s number one weapon: outfielder Haylie McCleney. As impressive as Florida’s bats have been, McCleney outshines them. She leads the SEC in on-base percentage (.619), is second in batting average (.481), and is tied for third in runs scored (41). Walton says she can beat a team multiple ways.
These two teams last met in Tuscaloosa, AL last March when the Tide handed the Gators one of their seven losses on the season. But a more notable matchup was in the 2014 Women’s College World Series where the Gators beat the Tide for the school’s first championship.
The first game kicks off Friday at 6 p.m, followed by a 3:30 p.m. Saturday start and a 1 p.m. Sunday wrap up.