GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Let's see.
Florida, South Florida, Central Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.
What, no Santa Fe College?
The NCAA Softball Gainesville Regional will not only be staged in the Sunshine State, but will be packed with strictly Sunshine State teams -- the only region among the tournament bracket's 16 to feature teams from the same state -- led by the top-seeded and sixth-ranked Gators (46-11), who face FGCU (37-22) in Friday's opening-round play at 6 p.m.
Second-seeded USF (45-11) and third-seeded UCF (39-17) will precede the host team's game at 3:30, with the breaking off into their respective winner or loser brackets Saturday, and on into Sunday's championship round.
[Note: Maybe the NCAA should have allowed for six teams here, rather than sending Florida State to the UCLA region and Bethune-Cookman to Texas A&M.]
"It says a lot about where we are on the national level," Gators coach Tim Walton said.
Very deep in talent, that's where.
As for the Gators, they're in the NCAAs for a 10th straight season -- and in search of a fifth straight College World Series berth -- having hosted a first-weekend tournament each of those years. The selection committee has sent four Florida teams to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in the past, but probably not as competitive a quartet as this one.
"We all know each other," UF senior Michelle Moultrie said. "We're all good teams."
"Some might think it's boring, having all Florida teams coming in," sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle said. "I think it's kind of cool."
Could be kind of interesting, also.
Florida went 2-2 against this regional field. The Gators beat USF 3-2 and FGCU 5-0 in a Tampa tournament opening weekend.
Later in the season, though, UF lost a mid-week home game 4-1 against the Bulls and All-America pitcher Sara Nevins on March 28, then two weeks later went to Orlando and was shut out 2-0 by the Knights, led by freshman Mackenzie Audas, who fired a two-hitter and struck out 11.
Better believe the Gators will see one of those two (if not both) this weekend. "We've played each other, so familiarity is a wash," Walton said. "But I think [USF and UCF] players have a little extra confidence because those two teams were able to beat us this year. Our players might have a little more of a chip on their shoulders because we did lose to those teams during the regular season -- and we haven't lost to a lot of Florida teams the last several years."
What's happened in the past means nothing, of course, which is a mantra the Gators say will take to heart, especially coming off a 10-1 beatdown loss Saturday against Alabama in the title game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"We're trying to forget about that," sophomore pitcher Hannah Rogers said.
Maybe so, but it was the second time UF was run-ruled by the third-ranked Crimson Tide in a week, having lost 9-1 in the second game of their regular-season ending series the previous weekend.
"You can't hold on to games like that," Coyle said. "It's like a bad at-bat. You look forward, not back."
Especially this time of the season. The new season. The Postseason.
In this case, high-stakes softball, Florida style.
"I think it's great, just fantastic," USF coach Kenny Eriksen said. "You're definitely going to have one team from the state of Florida moving into the Sweet 16 -- guaranteed. That speaks to the state of Florida softball."