Florida's No. 1 softball team entered the weekend needing just two wins over Arkansas to win a second straight SEC championship in its regular season finale. Instead, a loss by Auburn on Friday night allowed the Gators to earn their title one day early.
The Tigers' loss to Texas A&M dropped them to 15-6 in conference play, making Florida's 18-4 record firmly uncatchable. But it was a sure bet Florida wasn't going to cough up this championship: The Tigers' only chance of dethroning the Gators — who took two of three from Auburn in Auburn back in March — required at least one loss by Florida to Arkansas, which entered the weekend at 1-20 in SEC play, and the Gators' 9-0 five-inning win on Friday showed the distance in ability between the two sides.
Florida's second consecutive SEC title came after a far smoother cruise than the first, which required the Gators to rally from a 3-3 start in conference play in 2015 to finish 18-5. This year, Florida began its SEC slate 8-1, with its only loss coming to Auburn, before dropping its only SEC series to date — and likely only, barring unfathomable losses to Arkansas on Saturday and Sunday — to Alabama, and has only lost one more game since then.
This SEC title, the sixth in program history, comes as the latest achievement for this Gators team, which has maintained a vise grip on No. 1 in the national polls for most of the year. The SEC has seven top-25 teams in this week's RPI, and nine top-30 squads; Florida has steamrolled that conference, and also gone undefeated in non-conference play against a typically brutal schedule, and is as firm a lock for the No. 1 overall seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament as could be.
Even if the Gators fail to win the SEC Tournament — something they've done in each of the last two years — it's hard to see how that could stop Florida from being the postseason's prohibitive favorite.
And not winning the SEC Tournament sure didn't stop the Gators from winning college softball's last two national titles.