Gator Softball Faces Tough Opening Weekend

Florida head coach Tim Walton admits he was surprised when the NCAA Tournament bracket was released. Although his team pinned down the No. 4 seed, the Gators won't have an easy bracket for Regionals. The NCAA committee sent defending national champion UCLA to the Gainesville Regional, creating a tough opening weekend for the Gators.

"I was a little bit surprised and I'm sure they were surprised," Walton said. "I thought Florida State was going to come here, but it didn't work out that way. It's a totally different rivalry coming in another way. We've only beaten (UCLA) twice in the history of our program."

The benefit of hosting the first weekend in Gainesville is that the Gators get to go through their normal routine. They'll sleep in their own beds, prepare for the game in their own locker room and play on their home field.

It won't be a long trip for Bethune-Cookman or Jacksonville, the other two teams in the Regional, but it requires a cross country trip for UCLA.

"They're probably not too excited about being across the country with as many times as they've hosted, but they're going to be hungry and have a chip on their shoulder," Walton said.

Before the Florida-UCLA matchup takes place, each must get through its opening round matchup. UCLA will take on Jacksonville at 3:30 Friday before the Gators take on Bethune-Cookman at 6 p.m.

Walton was encouraged by the familiarity the Florida coaching staff has with all three teams coming to Gainesville this weekend, but they also have familiarity with his Gators. Florida beat Bethune-Cookman 6-0 in the first round of the NCAA Regional last season.

If the expected Florida-UCLA matchup happens, it will be the second time the teams have met this season. The Gators beat then-No. 2 ranked UCLA 4-1 at the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., earlier this season. Michelle Moultrie drove in two runs while Aja Paculba and Kelsey Bruder each drove in one.

"I remember UCLA being good, and we had to pitch our way out of a couple things," Walton said.

Walton said Stephanie Brombacher's health continues to improve and that she will split time with freshman Hannah Rogers this weekend.

Rogers is one of the three freshmen that will play a large role in how far the Gators go this season, while shortstop Cheyenne Coyle and third baseman Kasey Fagan control the left side of the infield. Walton has addressed the seniors on the team about spending time with the freshmen to help them relax during the postseason atmosphere.

"No matter how good we are or how many games we've won, when you get in the postseason, some people take their game to another never and some people just drop down to another level because of pressure or adversity," Walton said. "If we're going to have a chance to win, they better play to another level and with the confidence they've had all year long."

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