Florida's softball team has been hot of late, running off nine straight wins heading into this weekend's series against Missouri.
The Gators have been especially good at the top of the order, allowing them to bury teams early. But one of Missouri's players — Florida transfer Sami Fagan, who was at the heart of the Gators' flummoxing finish to the 2012 season — will force Florida to revisit old ground on Senior Weekend for Hannah Rogers and Stephanie Tofft.
Can the Gators deal with the emotions of Fagan's return to Gainesville and continue their strong play of late? Or will Missouri be able to pull upsets in its first visit to Gainesville for a weekend series? I talked to The Beef of Rock M Nation — who previewed this series from the Mizzou point of view over yonder — for some answers.
Florida's got a lot of power, and has been really hot at the plate of late. What's more likely: Missouri cooling the Gators off, or the Tigers prevailing in slugfests?
The Tigers do not lack for offensive options, but they have yet to really all click at the same time. We also have not had a lot of lineup stability, as some parts we thought would be important have had to be phased out of the lineup for lack of production. Speed has been a big part of our offense this year, and there is some power there (though it has not quite materialized in the way I think some Tiger fans thought it might). That said, Tori Finucane has been very good against some very good teams (especially on Friday nights), so I think the first game will see the Gator bats cooling off a bit.
Florida and Missouri have never played an SEC series before, and so this is new for both teams. How has Missouri done on the road at some of the SEC softball powers since joining the league, and has the move been a good one for the program?
The move has been tremendous for the entire school on the whole. Obviously, some programs have not come along quite as much as others (and wrestling had to find another home entirely). But softball has really done just fine with the move. The Big 12 was certainly a high-level conference in softball, so the landscape is not much different. Obviously there is some more depth to grind through, but playing OU (Ricketts), UT (Luna) and BU (Canion) is pretty similar to what we have seen in the SEC. And let’s face it: We came up against the SEC a decent amount in our WCWS appearances.
As for the Tigers on the road, I think they have played pretty well. As mentioned earlier, Finucane has been tremendous on Fridays, and the Tigers have a road sweep against Auburn under their belt already this season. We have a young squad this year, after graduating some of our program’s best players in Chelsea Thomas and Nicole Hudson. This group has only one everyday senior (Mackenzie Sykes) and one who you might see on Saturday in the circle in relief (Alora Marble). I don’t think the scene in Gainesville will be too big for this group.
Florida transfer Sami Fagan is also making her return to Gainesville after a somewhat acrimonious departure at the end of the 2012 season. How has she fit in at Missouri, and could she have a revenge game or two in Gainesville this weekend?
I know someone on the team was asked about what it meant for Sami to be returning to Gainesville this weekend and the player said they would be playing for her. No one (still) really knows what happened to lead to her dismissal from the team, but needless to say, that sort of statement should show how well she has been accepted and acclimated to the group in Columbia. I think she has had a solid season, though I expected a little more offensive production from her. That said, it is hard to complain about .345 and the fact she has been moved behind the plate in some games to assist with our lineup struggles and getting the best nine on the field.
What's your guess for how this weekend goes?
I feel like Mizzou should certainly have a very good chance to take one of the games. I think two out of three is possible, though not terribly likely. A sweep either way would surprise me (though us sweeping would surprise me more than us getting swept). I think our offense can score a few runs and I think Finucane has returned from her slight injury issues very strong. I think it will be a great series and certainly a great display about what SEC softball is all about.
Florida will take on the Tigers at 6 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. on Sunday in a Senior Day sendoff for Rogers and Tofft. GatorVision will have video for subscribers on Friday and Saturday, and will simulcast the Sun Sports telecast on Sunday, while Florida Sports Talk will have radio broadcasts of all three games at 1230 AM in the Gainesville area and streaming live online.
I'll be in the comments and updating this post all weekend.