Gators Keeping Goals Small

The first step was to win 50 games, and they did. Now, it's time for the biggest goal of them all as the Florida Gators softball team takes the field on Thursday afternoon to kick off the College World Series.

Florida faces Louisiana-Lafayette at 1 p.m. on Thursday, and even though the prize is big in Oklahoma City, head coach Tim Walton is keeping the goals small.

"Win game one and that's the new goal," Walton said. "Once we accomplish that, we'll set a new goal. But it's not that old cliché stuff, these kids really believe it. We're not going to get caught up in two. Right now we can't get to game two without getting game one."

After accomplishing so many firsts for the Gator softball program this season, Walton has the difficult job of refocusing his Gators for the next week.

"Every series we've played in we've won," Walton said. "Now it's time to reset our focus and we've set a new goal of what we're trying to accomlish."

In game one of the double elimination tournament, Florida faces a Louisiana-Lafayette team that upset Houston in the Super Regional over the weekend. The Ragin' Cajuns have a potent offense that's hitting .317 as a team and has hit 60 home runs, including 21 from senior Holly Tankersley.

"You have to challenge her, but you also have to know the facts," Walton said. "We're going to watch the game and see how she is. If she's as good as advertised, we'll pitch around her and make someone else beat us. Stacey's up for the challenge. She's thrown 300 innings and given up just one home run. The ballpark is smaller, though. The park is small, the crowds are big and it's on national television."

Louisiana-Lafayette doesn't necessarily have an ace, but they do have a solid pitching staff from top to bottom.

"They have a very talented pitching staff," Walton said. "They don't necessarily have a number one, so that can create some matchup problems. They've been to the World Series before. They've been going for a very long time so they know how to get there and they know how to win it."

Florida, however, may have the best pitcher in the nation with Stacey Nelson. The junior was just named to the first team All America and All Academic teams.

"We have one of the eight greatest pitchers," Walton said. "There are a couple of things you have to do a really good job of. You can't get caught up in your numbers. You have to make the pitches when you need to and get a hit when you need to get a hit."

The Gators have never been to the College World Series, but Walton has been to the baseball version as a player with the University of Oklahoma. He can bring some of that experience to this first trip for Florida.

"You play for another day of meal money," he said. "It was a lot of fun. You get pregame meals, so you're going to eat pretty well and pocket the rest. As a coach, there is a lot of preparation."

The main thing for Walton is that his players go out and just play their game, but at the same time enjoy the moment.

"You really can't prepare them other than tell them it's just another game," Walton said. "Enjoy your teammates. For Mary Ratliff, this is it. This is what you've grown up wanting to do. Some kids never get ‘it'. She's got an opportunity to go out and enjoy it. There are so many kids that never get to go out and enjoy it."

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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