Weekend Preview: Softball, women's tennis, lacrosse, men's golf look to advance in NCAA play

Five Florida teams are in action this weekend, with four of them playing in their respective NCAA Tournaments.

The Weekend Review runs down Florida's sporting successes and failures in the non-football, non-men's basketball, non-track sports on crowded fall and spring weekends. If you have a club sport or other note to include in the Weekend Review, hit @AlligatorArmy.

Softball begins NCAA Tournament

As it enters the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Florida's softball team is in almost the exact same position its 2012 predecessor was. There are a couple of major differences, though: First, it seems unfathomable that this team is going to blow up off the fiel like last year's did, and second, these Gators might just win it all.

Florida had the No. 5 national seed in 2012, but a better finish to their 2013 campaign, which featured a sweep of the SEC's regular season and tournament titles, earned the Gators the No. 2 national seed this year. And the 2013 iteration of the Gainesville Regional is stocked with less talent than in 2012, when Florida Gulf Coast and USF both took wins from Florida to knock the Gators out of postseason play.

This year, Florida begins with MEAC champion Hampton, a 34-24 squad that went 16-2 in conference play and 18-22 outside it, and should make short work of the Pirates: The Gators have a 21-2 record against fellow MEAC teams Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M all-time. USF and Georgia Southern make up the other half of the Gainesville Regional's bracket, and it's a good bet that we'll see the Gators take on the Sara Nevins-led Bulls for the third time this season on Saturday: USF defeated Georgia Southern 1-0 Friday afternoon. Florida took wins from USF in Tampa and Gainesville earlier this year, and has the rare battery of hitters that can make things happen against Nevins.

NCAA Tournament play is double-elimination, and Florida will have to win no fewer than three games to advance, but the Gators can reduce their weekend to little more than a series-like string of games by beating Hampton tonight (the game started at 6 p.m.), as the winner of that game plays USF at 1 p.m. on Saturday, and the winner of that 1 p.m. Saturday game doesn't play again until 1 p.m. on Sunday.

GatorVision has live, free streams of all of the games from the Gainesville Regional this weekend. For tons more on Florida softball, and on ticket and other information about the Gainesville Regional, head to GatorZone.

Women's tennis moves on to Elite Eight

Florida's women's tennis team is just three wins away from three national championships in a row. The Gators already have three wins in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, after making quick work of Duke this morning in Illinois.

Florida swept the Blue Devils, 4-0, and had only to win three matches and five sets to do it: Duke's five-player teamwas forced to forfeit on No. 3 doubles, helping Florida win a quick doubles point thanks to the team of Lauren Embree and Sofie Oyen, and No. 6 singles, giving the Gators a 2-0 lead before singles play commenced.

With that lead in hand, Florida calmly went on to avenge a 4-0 loss to Duke in Durham earlier this season, with Olivia Janowicz and Brianna Morgan weeping No. 5 and No. 4 singles matches, respectively. The whole match took a little over two hours, very quick for a Sweet Sixteen match, and Florida should be fresh for the grueling stretch run before it over the next four days.

That's because Florida, which will play California on Sunday in an Elite Eight matchup, must win matches on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to earn the national championship, thanks to the NCAA Tournament's format, which allows for team play to spill from one weekend into the next week before individual play begins next Wednesday and ends next weekend.

Of course, the well-conditioned Gators are the No. 1 seed in this tournament and its two-time defending champions for a reason: Since 2010, when their current string of three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament final began, they have lost just 11 games in nine matches in the Elite Eight or later, with 10 of those losses coming to either possible Final Four foe Stanford or the Duke team they dispatched today.

Florida plays Cal at 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. Live stats and free streams will be available all weekend at FightingIllini.com, the athletics website of the University of Illinois.

Lacrosse faces Syracuse in NCAA Tournament rematch

There's unfinished business remaining for Florida's women's lacrosse team in the three games that stand between it and the program's first national title, and the Gators will have to go through old foe Syracuse in a tough matchup on Saturday to make it back to the Final Four where the Orange defeated them in 2012.

Florida's No. 5 national seed, given despite the Gators' wins over No. 2 Northwestern, No. 3 North Carolina, and No. 4 Syracuse during the regular season, earned the Gators a trip up to the Carrier Dome to play the Orange it beat by a 14-10 count in Miami this March. We already detailed how this Syracuse team is likely to be different without Michelle Tumolo, out for the season with an ACL tear, but Florida's road test merits some more examination.

Syracuse has just a 10-10 record in the NCAA Tournament, but was largely playing road games at higher-seeded teams until the arrival of head coach Gary Gait in 2008. Since then, Syracuse has hosted five NCAA Tournament games, and won them all, including a thrilling comeback against North Carolina in 2012.

Florida has far less NCAA Tournament history, with a 4-2 record since its first appearance in 2012, but hasn't had to play a road NCAA Tournament game yet, with the Gators hosting Stanford and Duke in 2011, Albany and Penn State in 2012, and Denver last Sunday. So this trip to Syracuse and the cavernous Carrier Dome is profoundly strange for the Gators, and saddles a team that defeated its foe at a neutral site in the regular season with a disadvantage in NCAA Tournament play.

That's not to say that Florida shouldn't be able to handle Syracuse on the field on Saturday: The Gators, whose 2 p.m. tilt will be televised by Sun Sports and broadcasted on ESPN 850, led by two or more goals for all but 5:47 of that first matchup in Miami, and the weather was unseasonably cold for South Florida, nullifying some of the advantage of a neutral-site home-state game. And that was with Tumolo, whose four goals and five points led Syracuse in both categories.

If Florida can lasso 100-point scorer Alyssa Murray and leading goal-scorer Kayla Treanor, it should have enough firepower from Kitty Cullen, Shannon Gilroy, Ashley Bruns, Brittany Dashiell, and/or someone else to make a second straight Final Four.

Men's golf going low while aiming high at NCAA Regionals

Florida's men's golf program has spent its spring muddling through despite a wealth of talent. At the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional over the last two days, that talent has been on full display.

Florida shot a 2-under 286 in Thursday's first round to take a 10-shot lead on No. 2-ranked Alabama, then followed it up with a 4-over 292 on a tougher Friday that ceded just two shots to the Crimson Tide. T.J. Vogel has been the Gators' leader, is the only player in the field to card two under-par rounds, and leads all players at 3-under — but his one-shot lead is over teammate Tyler McCumber, and McCumber is alone in second, and one shot ahead of Florida's Eric Banks and Alabama's Scott Strohmeyer.

The performance of that top three has done a ton to help Florida, which has also seen J.D. Tomlinson struggle to a 77 on Thursday and a 78 on Friday and counted a 74 from Tommy Mou in the first round before eight bogeys and three double bogeys on Friday contributed to his second-round 82.

The Gators tee off on Saturday morning, and live stats will be available via Golfstat. There is no stream or radio broadcast, but, c'mon, it's golf.

Baseball finishing regular season

Florida's baseball team assured itself of a winning regular season with a win over Georgia on Thursday night. With one win in the next two games, the Gators will also lock in a .500 record in the SEC in a rebuilding year.

Florida's 4-2 win over the Bulldogs in Athens on Thursday night was notable for reasons other than boosting the Gators' record to 29-25 and 14-14 in the SEC: Jonathon Crawford worked 6.2 innings and allowed just one earned run (Georgia's other run was unearned because of a Cody Dent error, of all things), freshmen Harrison Bader and Brady Roberson combined for Florida's three RBI on the night, and Florida's bullpen allowed one hit in 2.1 innings of sterling work.

But these Gators really just needed a win to avoid the potential disaster of a sweep at the hands of a cellar-dwelling Georgia team that has a dismal 5-20 SEC record, one that would have forced them to win two games at the SEC Tournament to guarantee a winning record. With that possibility eliminated, Florida can tinker with its rotation and lineup this weekend, rest bullpen arms, and prepare for the SEC Tournament, which has a higher risk-reward proposition than two more games against a bad Georgia team.

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