Florida softball begins quest for NCAA title today
The Florida softball team begins NCAA Tournament play today vs. Hampton in the NCAA Tournament Gainesville Regional at the Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on the University of Florida campus.
The Gators and Hampton will play at 6 p.m. today, while USF will play Georgia Southern at 3:30 p.m.
Florida is the No. 2 national seed and is trying to return to the NCAA Super Regional after being eliminated by USF in Gainesville last season. Prior to that, the Gators had been to four consecutive Women's College World Series.
"I think we're in a good position," UF coach Tim Walton said. "We've prepared really well this week. We're excited and fired up to get back home again. We're not putting any more pressure on them than they already put on themesvles. We're concentrating on just going out and playing, doing what we've done all season."
Florida enters regional play ranked second in the nation in win-loss percentage (.881), second in fielding percentage (.980), eighth in ERA (1.78), ninth in scoring (6.73 runs per game), 14th in homers per game (1.34) and 15th in slugging percentage (.524). Junior pitcher Hannah Rogers ranks sixth in the country in victories (29), 11th in shutouts (9) and 22nd in ERA (1.59). Freshman second baseman Kelsey Stewart has nine triples, including 0.15 per game, which ranks third in the nation.
"We're excited," Stewart said. "But we're not going to try to go out and do anything different that what we've been doing, because that's what's been working. We're going to stick to the plan, which is just play hard, play solid defense, try to get good hits and get better every day. We're taking it one game at a time."
The winner of the Gainesville Regional will play the winner of the Louisville Regional, featuring the No. 15 seed and host, Louisville (46-11), in addition to UCLA (37-18), UAB (37-16) and IPFW (32-14). The highest remaining seed will host the NCAA Super Regional round.
Kelsey Horton, a Valrico grad is one of only two seniors on this young Florida team. Horton said despite the team's youth, there is a unique chemistry that has bonded the team and led to the unexpected success.
"It's hard to explain but this is such a close team," Horton said. "And you can see that in the way we play, the way everybody goes out and competes and contributes. We have a saying '16 Strong" and that means that everybody contributes, everybody is a part of this. Every night it's somebody different that has a major impact in the game. And that's something that really special."