Here is part three of our three part Gainesville Regional Q&A preview (you can find the first two parts linked below). Our pals at Alligator Army, our Florida SB Nation cousins, were kind enough to answer our questions about the Gators ahead of this weekend’s NCAA Tournament.
UF is the host for Wisconsin’s regional and are a power in the SEC. They are projected to make it to the Super Regional somewhat easily, but we still wanted to find out if there were any weaknesses in the Gators’ armor.
Here are Andy Hutchins’ answers to our questions:
The Gators are a traditional powerhouse in the SEC, having won five of the last seven regular season titles and a pair of SEC tournament titles and national titles in the same time frame. I guess my question is, uh, is there any way they don’t make it out of this regional?
Florida’s exited the postseason in Gainesville Regional play before, but the last time that happened was in 2012, and as the coda to a tumultuous season in which internal conflicts consumed a talented team. Tim Walton’s learned from that, and Florida hasn’t had a recurrence since, but this Gators team hasn’t always met program standards on the field, thanks to a top-heavy, light-on-power lineup that was hurt by Hannah Adams dealing with an injury and the lack of an ace on par with, say, Aleshia Ocasio or Kelly Barnhill.
At least four NFCA All-Southeast Region Team selections in 13 out of the last 14 times the awards have been given!! #GoGators— Gators Softball (@GatorsSB) May 19, 2022
Congratulations @hmadamss11, @Wallace2Skylar, @ElizabethH_99_ & @kfalby7‼️ https://t.co/Zgl0gixl3D
But Adams is back, and Florida played with verve that had not been seen in a while in the SEC Tournament before running into the Arkansas team it has not beaten this year. And Arkansas isn’t in this Gainesville Regional. So it would probably be a shock for Florida to go out at this stage.
Florida appears to have a balanced offensive attack, featuring six players batting over .300 and having OBPs above .360. Which player really kicks the Florida offense into gear?
The easy answer is Skylar Wallace, who is Florida’s best hitter, but I don’t think that’s the right one. For my money, it’s Kendra Falby, the freshman speedster who leads off. While Wallace has more stolen bases on the year, Falby is faster, with the sort of game-changing speed that can get her from first to home plate on the right single, and her ability to get on base and provide Wallace with opportunities to drive in runs is crucial to this team’s success, as long balls don’t often generate the runs for this offense.
Wallace has plenty of speed in her own right, and is capable of doing the same thing for the hitters behind her that Falby does for Wallace (and Adams, who typically hits second).
But Florida’s best scoring chances come if and when Falby and/or other runners are on board for Wallace’s at-bats, and Wallace’s power is more of the doubles-and-triples variety than home run-ready, so runners will likely need to get on for her to score runs at the dish. That’s what makes Falby so crucial.
Who would be on the mound if the Gators were in a must win game in this regional? What makes this pitcher, whoever you pick, so tough to get on base against?
You know what? I’m honestly not sure. I think I would go with Lexie Delbrey, who is just a freshman but has the best strikeout rate on the roster. But Walton has options who all have pros and cons: Rylie Trlicek hasn’t given up a homer, but she’s only started once all year and has the highest WHIP of Florida’s four primary pitchers; Elizabeth Hightower has thrown the most innings this year, but isn’t really a blow-you-away thrower; Natalie Lugo, the most experienced of this team’s arms, is maybe the most consistent, too, but when she blows up, it can be game-wrecking.
I think Delbrey’s ability to get an out via a whiff is the standout skill for this staff, so I would probably give her the start, but both I and Walton would probably use multiple pitchers in that scenario, and might end up playing matchups as much or more than looking to a specific skill set or mentality to carry the day for five or six innings.
Florida and Canisius play on Friday afternoon after the Badgers and Yellow Jackets are finished.