Florida's softball team won the first national championship in program history without winning the SEC crown in 2014.
This year, the Gators get to go for the sweep — thanks to some truly weird circumstances.
Florida clinched the SEC's regular season title on Sunday, but it could have done so on Saturday, after a 9-6 win at Missouri fueled by two home runs from Bailey Castro and another from Taylore Fuller. That game lifted the Gators to 18-4 in SEC play in 2015, and one full game ahead of Auburn (17-5 entering Saturday); had the Tigers lost at LSU on Saturday, Florida would have been assured of a better record even with a win in a Sunday finale at Missouri.
Instead, Auburn topped LSU, 1-0 — on a solo home run from Haley Fagan, younger sister of Kasey and Sami Fagan, who transferred from Florida in 2012 after being dismissed from the program by Tim Walton.
The Fagan family was always poised to dash Florida's SEC title hopes this weekend — Sami Fagan is now one of Missouri's leading hitters. And on Sunday, she tried her best: Fagan's two-RBI single off former teammate Lauren Haeger in the third inning opened the day's scoring, and she sprinted home on a Kelsea Roth sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Missouri a walk-off 3-2 win.
And so, 24 hours after being able to clinch the SEC title with an Auburn loss, Florida was still in that position — but would have lost the conference crown with an Auburn victory.
That would've been a tremendous disappointment for the Gators, who had pieced together an 17-game winning streak and gone unbeaten in April. Florida was (and will likely remain) the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, and has had the best RPI in college softball for much of the season. But it would also have been a testament to a truly incredible SEC: The top three teams in RPI heading into last week were all SEC teams, and the conference has five teams in the top eight and seven in the top 15.
Fortunately, though, the only team to top Florida in a series this season — LSU, which has been ranked No. 1 this season, and will be the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament — came through for the Gators on Sunday, handing Auburn a 7-1 loss and handing the SEC championship over to Florida.
The conference title is Florida's fifth, and the Gators have paired SEC regular season titles with SEC Tournament titles in their last three attempts (2008, 2009, 2013).
This season of ardor won't get any easier in the SEC Tournament, despite the Gators' No. 1 seed — it will take place in Baton Rouge, and the Tigers' No. 4 seed means Florida would meet LSU in a semifinal.
But no team has had a harder road in 2015 than Florida. And no team is riding higher.