Ridaught: Florida softball in SEC Semifinals

For the first time since 2005, the University of Florida softball team is hosting this year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The SEC softball tournament, which began in 1997, was originally held at neutral sites. 

However, in 2004, the tournament moved to on-campus sites, rotating to all 13 member schools.

Future host sites include Arkansas (2023), Georgia (2024), Auburn (2025), Kentucky (2026), LSU (2027), Missouri (2028) and Ole Miss (2029).

Florida, which won back-to-back SEC tournament titles in 2018 and 2019, is looking to become just the second No. 5 seed all time to win the tournament. Georgia became the first to do so during the 2014 season.

In 2019, Florida became the first No. 6 seed to win the tournament title.

So far so good for the Gators (43-15), who are seeking their sixth SEC tournament championship.

The Gators defeated No. 12 seed Texas A&M, 4-1, on Wednesday to advance to yesterday’s game. 

Fifth-year graduate senior Hannah Adams went 2-for-3 against the Aggies in her first game back after missing the last 14 games of the regular season.

On Thursday, No. 5 seed Florida cruised to a 9-3 win against No. 4 seed Kentucky to advance to Friday afternoon’s semifinals against top-seed Arkansas.

Freshman Kendra Falby went 3-for-5 at the plate with three runs scored and a stolen base against the Wildcats.

“I’m just really understanding that it’s postseason now, so what you did before doesn’t matter at all and like it’s a new season,” Falby said of her first SEC Tournament experience. “Really taking that in and then honestly just like Gator Nation behind me, like I felt like I had my 21 teammates behind me and then I had 2,000 people behind me. It was like all of us against them. So it was like the pressure was more on them and I’m just kind of embracing that and just running with it.”

Florida, which stole three bases in Wednesday’s win, now has 123 stolen bases on the year, putting them just six shy of the program’s single-season record of 129 that was set in 2007.

“Having our fans and getting to play in front of Gator Nation and having that advantage is huge,” said redshirt-junior infielder Skylar Wallace, who hit her sixth home run on Thursday. “To have your crowd get after it and just support you one through seven innings is awesome and gives you electricity in the dugout.”

Florida coach Tim Walton’s .730-win percentage in the SEC Tournament is the highest among active head coaches. Before Walton came to Gainesville, the Gators were just 9-18 in SEC tournament play.

Walton is also currently tied with Alabama’s Patrick Murphy for the most tournament championships in SEC history with five.

In order to advance to Saturday’s title game, the Gators will have to beat Arkansas for the first time this season. The Razorbacks swept the Gators in Gainesville, April 22-24.

Florida is ranked 12th in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Coaches Poll, while Arkansas is ranked No. 4.

The first pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium and can be seen on ESPN2.

The winner will play either Missouri or Tennessee for the tournament title at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Tennessee softball walked-off against Mississippi State in the longest SEC tournament game ever, while No. 7 seed Missouri knocked off No. 2 seed Alabama, handing the Crimson Tide their first loss in the opening round since 1999.

With the defending conference champions gone, that also opens the door for Missouri and Arkansas, who are trying to win their first-ever conference tournament title, or Tennessee, which is playing for its third championship and first since 2011.

 

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