Ten games into the season, it looked like Florida softball had once again asserted itself as a mainstay contender on the national scene. They had been ranked number one in the preseason SEC poll and were bludgeoning teams at will.
It is safe to say now that after back-to-back SEC series losses, dreams of an appearance in Oklahoma City might take a minor miracle for Tim Walton’s crew this season.
Florida Softball: Back to Earth
We’ve chronicled the disastrous trip Florida had to California that put a real dent into their season, but Florida managed to recover after that, winning nine of their next ten games.
But the knock on Florida from the outside world is that while they are now 26-9, with 16 of their wins coming via the run rule, only two of their wins are against ranked opposition (Louisiana and Arkansas).
Last weekend’s series loss to Arkansas was notable because it ended with Florida losing 14-1.
But the Gators still had the respect of voters are were still hanging on to being ranked 11th in the country heading into its weekend series against South Carolina. This was a great opportunity for Florida to regain its confidence, as the Gators had won 16 of the previous 17 meetings between the two teams.
If you want to go back even further, Florida hadn’t dropped a series to South Carolina since 2003, and from 2003 until this weekend was 42-2 against the Gamecocks.
And while South Carolina is 26-9 as well, they too are not some powerhouse this season. They came into the weekend having been run-ruled by Charlotte and Clemson while also losing to Stetson and being swept by Mississippi State.
In a vacuum, you could excuse what happened this weekend as “one of those weekends.” After all, Florida baseball was blown out on Friday and was down 8-3 in the fifth inning against Auburn on Sunday.
But Florida softball continues to pile up “one of those weekends.”
Friday’s meltdown might be symbolic of this season for the Gators. After falling behind 6-2, Florida put together a seven-run sixth inning that put them up 10-6 after Sam Roe roped a bases-load triple to center field.
But the Gators couldn’t make the momentum stick. South Carolina loaded the bases with one out, but after a fielder’s choice at home, it looked like Florida was going to escape the inning, having just given up one run when Rylee Trlicek got a strike-three call.
Except the ball was dropped, went to the backstop, and the inning continued.
Trlicek couldn’t stop the bleeding from there as the next three batters all reached base, and South Carolina was up by what proved to be the final score, 13-10.
To Florida’s credit, they seemed to bounce back and have things under control on Saturday. Reagan Walsh and Pal Egan homered in the first while Elizabeth Hightower threw a complete game, four-hit performance as the Gators won 8-1.
But the continued duality of Florida’s bats was on display Sunday afternoon. The Gators are fifth in the country in runs scored, yet suffered its fourth shutout of the season in a one-hit, 3-0 defeat to lose the series to South Carolina for the first time since 2003.
It’s hard to trust Florida softball as a legit contender heading into the back half of the season. If not for a two-out, two-strike single by Skylar Wallace against Missouri, the Gators would be 3-6 in SEC and have lost all three series they have played.
At this point, getting out of the Regional round is far from a given, let alone being a contender come Super Regional time. Heading into the weekend, Florida was ranked 11th in the polls but 22nd in RPI. Both those rankings figure to drop.
And any visions of making the trip Oklahoma City fans may have had ten games into the season have quickly faded into the reality of what the 2023 Florida Gators are.