The Florida Gators entered the championship series of the Women’s College World Series on a near-historic rampage through Oklahoma City on Monday.
By early Tuesday morning, they were the valiant losers of one of the greatest softball games ever played, and staring an 0-1 deficit in the series in the hole.
But that series is not over, and Florida still has a chance to win a national title for the third time in four years. Getting to a decisive Game 3, though, will require downing Oklahoma in Game 2 (8 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN) on Tuesday — and doing so with an unusual starter on the bump.
After both senior Delanie Gourley and sophomore Kelly Barnhill threw more than a full game’s worth of innings on Monday night, Tim Walton will turn to junior Aleshia Ocasio to solve the Sooners on Tuesday.
In a vacuum, this makes plenty of sense: Ocasio was the NCAA’s ERA leader in 2016, and has had another strong season, with a 1.13 ERA, in 2017; she is the freshest of Florida’s three primary pitchers, having not hurled even one pitch in Game 1; and she has championship series experience, having pitched against Michigan in 2015. But Ocasio has also become a more occasional pitcher in 2017, having taken on the responsibilities of hitting full-time and playing the field — usually at third — as a means of contributing to the Gators beyond playing a role in a three-woman rotation. And she hasn’t started since a Sunday loss to Tennessee in April,
And Florida will be facing Oklahoma’s ace, Paige Parker, whose spotless Women’s College World Series record could run to 9-0 with a clinching win.
But Florida has played three elimination games so far in this NCAA Tournament, and come away with a 3-0 record in them. And Ocasio’s return to the mound also gives Walton the leeway to shake up Florida’s lineup, something he’s done by moving Kayli Kvistad down to the cleanup spot and getting Brooke Clemens and Jaimie Hoover — both low-average big-swingers — into the Gators’ order.
Whether those changes are enough to get the Gators another win and another game in this season remains to be seen. But Walton and his team are clearly not afraid of being bold in pursuit of glory.
Full Women’s College World Series bracket information and times can be found here.