The Gators got this close last year, reaching the Super Regional against Texas A&M, but they had to play on the road. Florida lost that series two games to one, but this Gator team enters play ranked No. 1 in the nation and supremely confident. The Gators have shattered virtually every record the school has and now must get past a good, traditional California program to accomplish something no other Gator team ever has.
California is a solid team that is strong offensively but might be a bit vulnerable in the circle with its pitching. The Bears are coming off a win at Fresno State, so they've shown they can succeed away from home. The Gators are 1-3 all time against California, but have not played them since 2000 when the Bears eliminated the Gators from the NCAA Tournament.
On the eve of the Super Regional I spoke with Mary Ratliff, the lone senior on the Florida team. The Kentucky native had a sensational final season in Orange and Blue, hitting .307 with nine homers and 45 RBI. Her season was highlighted by two game winning Grand Slams against Alabama. Those two slams were the difference in Florida winning both the SEC Championship and the Tournament title as well.
LV: This is it, your final weekend playing in Gainesville. What are you feelings heading into the weekend?
MR: I think it means a lot more than I'm giving it credit for. This will officially be the last time I play in the stadium here at Florida win, lose or draw. I'm excited I get that chance to be in a Super Regional at home for my last game here.
LV: You guys reached the Super Regional for the first time last year and came up one win short of the World Series. How much has that driven this team all season long?
MR: I think that's really been the spark for our whole season this year. We realized how close we were and how excited we all were just thinking that we could make it to the College World Series, it's going to happen. It also made us realize that we wanted to be in position to host a Super Regional because going to Texas A&M wasn't easy.
LV: You guys were extended to an elimination game last weekend. I know you didn't want that to happen, but since it did and you guys responded with a ten-nothing win does that turn out to be a good thing?
MR: Oh definitely. A lot worse thing could have happened to us than to lose one game, especially to a pitcher like that who is dominating. (UCF pitcher) Allison Kime is very good. She one-hit the US National team earlier in the year. She has great stuff. Having that mentality with our backs against the wall we came out swinging and that's really encouraging. There's no quit in this team. You never want to face an elimination game, but if you're in one that's how you hope to respond.
LV: What would it mean to you, to this team and this program to be the first group of Gators to advance to Oklahoma City?
MR: It's what we've been look for all year. That's been our goal, and to reach that goal would just be unbelievable. When I look back four years ago when I chose to come to Florida this is why I came. I wanted the chance to play in big games. It would be unreal, but have our work cut out for us. We have to get past a good team with a great history in order to make it to that point. It's exciting to think about, but right now we're focused on Cal.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel