Two weeks ago, for the third straight season, Florida's softball team failed to win the SEC Tournament after a fine regular season in one of the nation's toughest conferences.
This past weekend, the Gators proved that that failure likely had very little bearing on their postseason trajectory by ripping through the Gainesville Regional, winning three games by shutout and extending a streak of dominance that dates back to 2013.
That's still the last time Florida, the 2016 NCAA Tournament's top overall seed, allowed a run in NCAA Regional play, after an 11-0 win over Alabama State on Friday and 5-0 and 8-0 wins over UCF on the weekend. And given that Florida hasn't allowed an earned run since its bizarre end to the 2012 season, the only year since 2007 in which the Gators haven't advanced to Super Regional play, it's fair to say any fears of a late-season swoon were, as usual, either unfounded or myopic.
Florida's pitching ruled the weekend from the mound, as Aleshia Ocasio picked up two wins and Delanie Gourley threw a one-hit shutout for the Gators' third. Both pitchers tightened their grasp on the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the nation's ERA rankings, and now sit at 0.65 (Ocasio) and 0.70 (Gourley) on the year.
Florida is still the only team in the country with a team ERA under 1.00.
But the Gators' bats waking up was the pleasant surprise of the weekend. It was no big deal to put up 11 runs on overmatched Alabama State, which entered the Gainesville Regional as the tournament's "last" seed given its matchup with the Gators.
UCF entered the weekend with a 2.05 ERA, just outside the nation's top 10, though. Now, the Knights are out of the NCAA Tournament — and their final team ERA sits at 2.15.
Sure, Kelsey Stewart "stealing" home on an unsuspecting pitcher is cool.
But the softball world knew that Florida was faster, smarter, and better on defense and the mound than virtually every team in the country. What it saw this weekend is that the Gators have some life in their bats, too.
And now, the only thing standing between the Gators (and their resurgent offense) and a return trip to Oklahoma City and the Women's College World Series as two-time defending national champions is a Gainesville Super Regionalagainst a Georgia team that hasn't taken a series from the Gators since 2011.
Once again, fear seems to be for every team but the Orange and Blue.