The defending NCAA softball national champions have been declared the favorites to do it again.
Florida (50-6) has earned the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and thus has received a rather favorable path back to the Women’s College World Series: Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Hofstra make up the Gators’ opposition in the Gainesville Region. Should the Gators win their region, they’ll face the winner of Notre Dame’s Region, which also features Kentucky, Northwestern and Ball State in the Gainesville Super Regional.
Florida was really, really hot as the season wound down, winning 17 straight games, but then they dropped the regular season finale to Missouri; after defeating South Carolina in the first round of the SEC Tournament, they were upset by Tennessee, 2-1. But both those teams are top ten seeds, and, well, the Gators also lost in last year’s SEC Tournament prematurely and wound up lifting the bigger trophy. So none of that means anything.
What does mean something is that Florida is loaded with talent, and maybe the most complete team in the country. Do-everything senior Lauren Haeger is a dominant force on the mound (1.47 ERA, 170 K’s) and at the plate (.331 average and 15 homers), and figures to get the start on the mound. Add Aleshia Ocasio and Delaney Gourley and Florida’s got one of the best pitching staffs in the nation. And the offense is just as impressive; Kelsey Stewart is hitting for a ridiculous .454 average, while Nicole DeWitt and Kirsti Merritt are hitting “only” .345 and .333, respectively. Oh, and these numbers come against some of the best teams in the country; 13 of their 50 wins came against the top 16 seeds in the NCAA Tourney.
Now it just becomes a matter of continuing to do what they’ve done all year in the postseason, which is something you can’t ever really predict in college sports- but this team is experienced enough to make me believe they will.