When Tim Walton came to Florida in 2006, one of his major goals was to make the Gators consistent, national contenders with the powerhouses in women's softball.
Florida is making its third consecutive appearance in the women's College World Series during Walton's five seasons. The No. 4 seed Gators (48-8) open play at 3:30 today (ESPN) against No. 5 UCLA (45-11) in Oklahoma City.
"To get to the College World Series the first time with a good team, to get there the second time with an even better team and then to get there a third time, that's when you build a program," Walton said.
The Gators' road to softball prominence has gone straight through traditional powers in the Pac-10. Florida defeated California and Arizona State in the past two NCAA super regions to advance to the World Series.
Last season, Florida finished national runnerup to Washington, a bitter loss that still troubles the Gators.
"I think we all kind of have that taste in our mouth from last year," junior Megan Bush said. "That's kind of my motivating factor, that's why I wanted to get back there to show people that hey, we're back and we can do this."
Washington is a favorite again this season, led by pitcher Danielle Lawrie, a two-time player of the year.
Florida enters the tournament on a hot streak. The Gators have not lost since May 14 against LSU and have won 18 of their past 20.
Today's game should be a battle of potent offenses. UCLA's Samantha Camuso hit .571 and was 8-of-14 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in five games in the region and super region competition. The Bruins had 17 home runs in those five games, hitting .362 as a team.
The Gators are hitting .335 as a team, but the need senior Francesca Enea to return to form. Enea (20 home runs and 65 RBIs) went hitless in region and super region play.
Florida's return is even more impressive considering it lost its all-time winningest pitcher, Stacey Nelson, and junior Stephanie Brombacher (34-6) took over the starting role after having Tommy John surgery at the end of last season.
"It was tough, it was things I didn't know why they were happening, but I'm just glad they are over now," said Brombacher, who has registered a 0.90 ERA in the postseason.
Enea and Brombacher were named National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Americans on Wednesday.
Golf: FSU men lead
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Florida State took a five-shot lead in the Division I men's championship, and San Diego's Alex Ching shot 6-under 66 to take the individual lead.
Florida is fifth, 14 back.
Ching matched the single-round record at the Honors Course. He has a 9-under 135 total for a two-stroke lead over Augusta State's Henrik Norlander (69) and Oklahoma State's Peter Uihlein (68).
FSU (14-under 562) is followed by Oklahoma State (567), Georgia Tech (572), Augusta State (575), UF (576), San Diego (576), Washington (577) and Clemson (577).
The top eight teams advance to three rounds of match play after stroke play today.
baseball: Alabama designated hitter David Kindred has Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer, and will miss the Atlanta Region that begins Friday. He is optimistic about rejoining the team in the fall. … Interim coach Tim Esmay became the full-time Arizona State coach. He was hired in December after Pat Murphy was fired.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.