There Be Gators Here: UGA vs. UF Super Regional Preview

Players high five fans during an NCAA softball game between Georgia and Tennessee at Jack Turner Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Athens, Ga.(Photo by Emily Selby) - Photo credit to Emily Selby

After winning the Athens Regional last weekend, UGA Softball heads to Gainesville to take on the (I hate) Florida Gators in the Super Regional round. Georgia remained in control for most of regional weekend, opening with a 6-0 win over Maine and a 5-2 win over Northwestern. The regional title appeared in doubt for a few hours Sunday afternoon, when we dropped a 5-3 decision to Oklahoma State, forcing a winner-takes-all final game. The Dawgs cruised to a 6-0 win in that game, powered by a nine-strikeout complete game performance from Chelsea Wilkinson. A couple of notable performances from the weekend:

-Wilkinson pitched 17 innings, giving up only two runs (both in the final frame of the Northwestern game). Kylie Bass was also excellent in relief, giving up one hit and no runs in her two appearances.

-Tina Iosefa broke Alisa Goler's single-season SEC RBI record Sunday afternoon with a 2-run home run. She'll have a chance at adding to her 86 RBI this weekend, and her 23 homers are creeping up on Alex Hugo's UGA record 25, set in 2014.

But enough history--the point here was to look ahead to this weekend. I'll be honest: a Super Regional win against #1 seed Florida is an awfully tall order. When I saw the tournament bracket, my first thought was, "Well, there are worse things than three consecutive Super Regional finishes. But, since hope springs eternal, even in this Munsonite's heart, here are a few things to keep an eye on this weekend:

UF pitching vs. UGA offense: Florida has one of the most dominant pitching staffs in the nation, featuring the two lowest ERAs in Division I (even with their #3 pitcher figured in, UF still leads the country in team ERA). That staff will be pitted against the nation's #4 offense. By guess is that we'll see some combination of Aleshia Ocasio (0.65) and Delanie Gourley (0.70), with freshman Kelly Barnhill coming in relief if necessary. I haven't seen much of Florida this year, but I've read that Ocasio tends to pitch to contact, which could benefit our three speedy slappers--Sydni Emanuel, Cortni Emanuel, and Samantha LaZear. If Delanie Gourley is at her best, it could be a short weekend for us in Gainesville. The knock on UGA's offense is that we accumulated gaudy stats against a weak non-conference slate. While there's some merit to that, we've still got some of the top hitters in the conference on our side, and they're definitely capable of doing some damage. Wild Card: Georgia's two freshman starters, Alyssa DiCarlo and Lacey Sumerlin. They've never seen Florida, but they hit .365 and .308 in conference play. If they have that sort of success against the Gators, it could get interesting...

UGA speed vs. Aubree Munro: Georgia rode the long ball to Oklahoma City in 2009 and 2010; over the past two years, they've developed a reputation for speed. The Emanuel sisters and LaZear are fast as blazes, and we've got several others who won't hesitate to swipe a bag if the opportunity presents itself. Heck, even Tina Iosefa stole a base last weekend (granted, it was her first in about two years, but work with me here). On the other side of the ball is Aubree Munro, one of the nation's best defensive catchers. Munro reminds me of Champ Bailey in his prime with the Broncos--she's caught so many runners stealing that nobody really tries to run on her any more (seven attempts this year), and she's committed about five career errors. I'll be interested to see if we play it a bit more conservatively than usual on the base paths, or if we test Munro's arm.

Chelsea Wilkinson vs. UF offense: Although Georgia has struggled with Florida in recent years, Wilkinson has pitched fairly well (most notably shutting out the national championship-bound Gators in the 2014 SEC Tournament). We'll need her to stymie UF's bats to get out of Gainesville with our season alive. Chelsea will almost certainly start Game 1, and I think we'll have to win that one to have a shot. After that, things get a little stickier--number 2 starter Brittany Gray has struggled late in the season, and took UGA's only loss in the Athens Regional. Do we pitch Gray in Game 2, or ride Wilkinson's arm as far as it can take us? I saw a couple of our regional games live, and Wilkinson looks like a woman on a mission--if a single player can will us to OKC, she's the one to do it. Wild Card: Kylie Bass. She's had a respectable freshman season, although we've generally avoided putting her in high-stakes situations. Getting a few solid relief innings out of her could be key.

Defense: Florida leads the nation in fielding percentage at .984, while Georgia sits just outside the top 50 at .966. Unfortunately, this tends to be the sort of thing that makes the difference in a close matchup.

Motivation: On one side, we've got a lauded senior class that doesn't want to go out without making it to OKC. On the other, they've got a lauded senior class that's gunning for a 3rd consecutive national championship. Man, I hate Florida. I'm calling the motivation factor a draw.

Bottom line? It's a long, long shot. There are many reasons Florida is the undisputed #1 seed in this tournament, and by the eye test, they ought to put us away without too much difficulty. But funny things happen in rivalry games, and we've got a senior class of six DGDs who'll fight like crazy to wear the G for one more week.

You can catch the Gainesville Super Regional on ESPN 2: Game 1 is at 7:00 PM Thursday, with Game 2 at 5:00 PM Friday. If necessary, Game 3 will be played at 8:00 Friday night. Feel free to join me in sitting in front of the nearest television with fingers crossed.

TL;DR? [Insert Lloyd Christmas meme here.]

Go Dawgs!

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