I thought too many players in the lineup couldn’t hit in meaningful moments, and that the inconsistency that has plagued Kelly Barnhill throughout her brilliant career would rear its head at the worst possible time.
But then, I thought that might submarine Florida at the SEC Tournament — especially given that the Gators were just a .500 team in SEC play entering the event.
Obviously, that didn’t happen in College Station, with Florida storming back from a deficit to South Carolina in its opener and storming all the way to a crown thanks to a stirring performance against Alabama.
But it also hasn’t happened yet in the NCAA Tournament, with Florida doing a fine impression of some of the best Gators teams of recent vintage in its Gainesville Regional and then surviving a tense, taut Super Regional bout with Tennessee thanks to timely hitting and some of the grittiest innings of Barnhill’s career.
And I have been pleasantly surprised by this run from about the moment it began.
I think that has a lot to do with how exceeding expectations is the best thing a team or player can do in sports. If you’re not projected for greatness, then greatness is that much sweeter when it is achieved; if you’re projected to be bad, even being average is generally enough to please many.
And failing to exceed expectations is a recipe for frustration. How do we remember the 2009 Florida football team that won the most games in program history, completed just the second undefeated regular season in program history, and was led by perhaps college football’s most accomplished Gator player ever? Generally not as fondly, I’d argue, as we do even last year’s Florida team, which lost to Kentucky and Missouri.
It’s easier to appreciate rises than plateaus, easier to see evidence of climbing a sheer face as praiseworthy than steps near the top. A little adversity and some tempering of expectations can be good, ultimately, for appreciating achievements.
So I’ll say this today: I don’t think Florida’s going to win the Women’s College World Series. Oklahoma and UCLA, in particular, look like teams too strong for the Gators to beat without a few breaks going their way, and I don’t know that even the best version of Barnhill can cast a spell like Hannah Rogers and Lauren Haeger did in their dominant trips to Oklahoma City. Over enough games, Florida’s top-heavy offense and Barnhill-centric rotation will probably bend and break.
But Florida’s proved me dead wrong twice already this postseason. And if I eat crow for a third time thanks to a national title, that crow is going to taste wonderful.