Florida Gators Alabama Crimson Tide
Kelsey Bruder
Florida Athletics
Kelsi Dunne
Alabama Athletics

Florida can hit for power with the best teams around and has pitching and defense to add to the mix. Those traits were keys to getting the Gators to Oklahoma City, but the reason UF is the most likely team to advance to the championship series is something you can’t put a statistic to – experience.

UF’s senior class consisting of Stephanie Brombacher, Kelsie Bruder, Megan Bush, Tiffany DeFelice and Aja Paculba is the first in Southeastern Conference history to make four consecutive trips to the Women’s College World Series. Think of it this way: there isn’t a player on the squad who has ended a collegiate season without playing in the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in June.

It should have been obvious early on that this group would be special as it helped the Gators to a NCAA-record 70 wins during their freshman campaign. Since then, they’ve compiled a 234-30 career record for an amazing .886 winning percentage. In the competitive SEC, the Gators have won 94 of their last 107 contests (.878).

The Gators aren’t just relying on seniors however. Coach Tim Walton has a good mix of experience and ability across the board, giving him options both offensively and in the circle with freshman through seniors providing clutch plays throughout the year.

UF enters the WCWS with a .326 team batting average, second only to top-seeded Arizona State (.340) among the eight-team field. Six players have started all 62 games this year while hitting at least .318. Only Michelle Moutrie, who paces the squad with a .431 batting average, rests under the .600 mark in slugging percentage among that group.

Fans enjoy watching the Gators because any pitch could be headed to the cheap seats. By crushing a nation-leading 110 long balls to set a school single-season mark, the Gators have 21 more home runs than the closest team (Alabama, 89) in Oklahoma City and more than double three other WCWS squads (Oklahoma State 47, Baylor 43, Cal 33).  Bush and sophomore Brittany Shutte each have 20 roundtrippers, tying the program single-season record.

Bush has been a mainstay in the Gator offense and now owns the school and conference home run record with 64 dingers the past four seasons. Her prowess with the bat includes hitting .345 in 2011 with a .723 slugging percentage and 30 walks, one of five Gators with 30 or more free passes. As a team, it has 287 walks, boosting its on-base percentage to .432, one of only three teams remaining above .400 (also Arizona State .437 and Alabama .425).

In total, more than 30 UF records have fallen this season. Potentially the most meaningful came by toppling the RBI record as the Gators set a Southeastern Conference mark with 434 runs knocked in to date. The potent offense has scored 461 runs, including outscoring its opponents 41-9 in the NCAA tournament. Last weekend, the Gators crushed No. 13 seed Oregon 9-1 and 7-0.

While the offense makes people take notice, the pitching has been elite as well. Brombacher opened her career with a 42-0 record her first two seasons and, after going 19-2 this season, owns a 96-10 overall mark. She has 669 career strikeouts and a career ERA below 1.50, but hasn’t been alone this season in the circle. In fact, freshman Hannah Rogers has taken the brunt of the pitching load in 2011, logging 238.0 of the team’s 398.1 innings. Rogers owns a 1.59 ERA and 203 strikeouts.

Despite working in the same bracket as top-seeded Arizona State and fourth-seeded Missouri, the combination of ability of the younger players along with the experience and guidance provided by the upperclassmen is enough to make the Gators the favorite to reach the championship series.

-- Jerry Trickie, NCAA.com


 

This could finally be Alabama’s year.

The Southeastern Conference has been knocking on the door of a NCAA Softball Championship for years, and no team has dealt with the heartbreak of missing that goal in as dramatic a fashion as senior pitcher Kelsi Dunne and the Crimson Tide. As a freshman in 2008, Dunne pitched the 3-1 loss to eventual champion Arizona State in Sunday’s semifinals. In her sophomore season, the Crimson Tide put together another exciting WCWS run with an opening-game loss to Michigan followed by wins against Arizona and Arizona State on Saturday.

Having lost to Florida in three of their previous four meetings on the season, Alabama was one out away from forcing the “if necessary” game when Dunne gave up a walk-off grand slam to lose 6-5 and end Alabama’s season. A year later, there was more walk-off drama as Jenna Rodriguez hit a two-run walk-off home run to defeat Alabama in the deciding game of Super Regionals and advance Hawai’i to the WCWS, leaving a stunned Crimson Tide team at home.

This year’s drama for coach Patrick Murphy’s Crimson Tide has come both on and off the field. Four games in late-April were wiped out when Tuscaloosa was devastated by a tornado. Bama was able to rebound to advance to Super Regionals, but dropped the opening game of the three-game series to Stanford 5-2. It was Dunne who took that loss in the circle, issuing four walks and giving up five runs, three earned, in the loss.

But it was also Dunne who pitched five innings in Friday’s first game as Alabama posted a 10-0 (5 inn) win against the Cardinal, and she would pitch 3.1 innings of four-hit shutout softball in the deciding game before yielding to freshman Jackie Traina who would strike out five during her 3.2 innings in the circle and score the game’s only run as her team advanced with the 1-0 win.

With Traina sharing the load in the circle, Dunne earned a second consecutive SEC Pitcher of the Year award and was selected as a top-10 Finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award along with sophomore teammate Kayla Braud.

This Alabama squad leads the nation in stolen bases per game, ranks third in ERA, and fourth in scoring, home runs and slugging percentage. Braud and Trania lead a balanced offensive attack with seven players hitting over .300 on the season and five with double-figure home runs. Dunne and Trania have both found success in the circle and both are ready to pitch in Oklahoma City.

Murphy’s squad has already proven it can overcome obstacles standing in their way in 2011.

“Everything that has gone into these last four weeks comes out,” said Murphy after his team advanced to the WCWS. “We really wanted to do it. We didn’t want to let people down, and we wanted to put a smile on their face. A lot of people were expecting this. It is difficult.”

Having come through for a packed house of 2,144 fans at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa last weekend, Murphy’s squad has proven that it has the mettle to put on a show for the Big 12 fans that are expected to invade Hall of Fame Stadium this weekend. A win in Thursday’s opening game against California at 1 p.m. ET will set up a run to the Championship Series for the Crimson Tide.

--Amy Hughes, NCAA.com