Florida softball spent this weekend last year sitting at home and licking its chops after a disastrous Gainesville Regional flameout. Now, after a perfect 5-0 run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament so far punctuated by a thrilling 1-0 victory over UAB this Sunday, the Gators are headed back to the Women's College World Series — for the fifth time in six years.
Hannah Rogers spun a shutout of the Blazers on the day, allowing just four hits, but UAB managed two in the bottom of the seventh inning, hitting as the "home" team in the second game of the best-of-three Gainesville Super Regional. That second hit, though, proved to be UAB's undoing, as Kelsey Stewart recovered from bobbling Lauren Webster's infield single to fire a laser to home from her knees. Stewart's throw got Hailey Glynn, who wheeled around third after the bobble, by several steps, and the dogpile was on.
Florida scored its only run on a double from Taylor Schwarz in the fourth inning, and managed just four hits against Webster and Lannah Campbell, who shared pitching duties for the Blazers. It was the Gators' second straight one-run win over UAB: Katie Medina notched a walk-off single with the bases loaded to get UF a 4-3 win on Saturday that set Sunday's noon game as the potential last one before Oklahoma City for the Gators and the potential last game of the season for the Blazers.
Florida, the NCAA Tournament's No. 2 national seed, is also 8-0 in postseason play in 2013, beating six separate teams in SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament play by a combined 52-18 tally.
In Oklahoma City, the Gators will first face SEC foe Tennessee on Thursday, revisiting a rivalry that has been white-hot in the last couple of years and a matchup that produced three thrilling extra-inning tilts in Gainesville earlier this season. The top threat is clearly Oklahoma, which boasts a 52-4 record and has rampaged through the NCAA Tournament so far, outscoring foes 69-8 in just five games.
But for Florida, even making the Women's College World Series is a sensational rebound from a 2012 season that ended under dark clouds, with the departures of three starters leaving the Gators largely unknown and untested entering 2013.
Instead of needing a year to rebuild, though, reloaded Florida dominated a revamped SEC — which added Missouri and Texas A&M, both Regional hosts and Super Regional participants this year, to an already deep roster of softball programs — and improved on its 2012 campaign with an SEC title and its first sweep of the SEC regular-season championship and SEC Tournament since 2009.
In 2008 and 2009, the only other years Florida swept those titles, it came one game shy of the Women's College World Series championship series and made it, respectively. Perhaps this Gators team will improve on those marks.
It's already done a handful of things no one thought it could do, after all.