NCAA Softball Women's College World Series: Florida Gators vs. UCLA Bruins

Brad GoldbachCorrespondent IJune 3, 2010

When it comes to college football, and even men's basketball to some degree, the Florida Gators are well-known across the country as a force to be reckoned with.

When it comes to softball, the Gators' strength is more of a recent phenomenon. But they are certainly staking their claim forcefully.


With their dismantling of No. 13 Arizona State by scores of 8-0 and 5-2, the No. 4 Gators are making their third straight trip to the Women's College World Series.


Awaiting them is their polar opposite: UCLA, home of 10 National Championships, with the last one coming in 2004. Just to put that in perspective, only two other teams (Arizona with eight and Texas A&M with two) have won more than one National Championship. The teams will square off Thursday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.


(For a breakdown of the Gators' key players, check out my write-up from last week)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that history is stacked against the Gators and their SEC brethren (No. 6 Georgia and No. 15 Tennessee). In fact, only one team (Michigan in 2005) east of the Mississippi River has ever taken home the softball crown.

But Florida has taken the necessary trials by fire to be considered a legitimate contender for the throne.


In their first appearance in Oklahoma City, the Gators dropped their opening-round game to Louisiana-Lafayette 3-2 to fall into the losers' bracket.


But as the Gators have shown the past three seasons, they have staying power.


Florida fought back to win their next three games (beating Virginia Tech 2-0, UCLA 2-0, and Texas A&M 6-1) to earn a rematch with the Aggies for the right to play Arizona State in the National Championship series. Unfortunately, all of those games sapped the Gators of their energy, as they finally succumbed 1-0 in extra innings to A&M.


The Gators returned hungry and rolled to Oklahoma City once again, entering the tournament as the top-seeded team and the favorites to win it all.


They learned their lesson from the first go-around, as they didn't give either of their first two opponents a chance to put them in the losers' bracket. When they clashed with Alabama for a chance to play for the National Championship, they turned the tables once again. This time, Ali Gardiner hit a walk-off grand slam to oust their SEC rivals for a match-up with Washington.


The Gators had it all last season: superior pitching from Stacey Nelson and excellent hitting across the board.


But as the tournament rolled on, Florida's bats seemed to lose their swagger. That's when Washington ace (and Canadian Olympian) Danielle Lawrie pounced.


The Huskies took the series from Florida in two games, keeping the Pac-10 atop the college softball world. 


The Gators will have a chance to avenge their loss against the Huskies if they are able to win their side of the bracket.


But first, they will have to tackle history. Namely, the UCLA Bruins. 


The Bruins have a lineup that is every bit as potent as the one Florida possesses. UCLA (94 home runs) and Florida (105) will match each other bomb for bomb.


So the pitching battle will probably determine this match-up.


Florida's Stephanie Brombacher comes in with a 34-6 record and 1.89 ERA. Her nemesis in the circle will be UCLA's Donna Kerr with an 18-7 record and 2.37 ERA.


The difference may end up being the bullpen. While UCLA has the opportunity to flip the switch on Florida's batters with Megan Langenfeld (11-1, 1.25 ERA) and Aleah Macon (11-1, 0.86 ERA), Florida's only options are freshmen who have never played on a stage this big.
Last year, Florida coach Tim Walton rode Nelson for the majority of the postseason run, only using Brombacher in cleanup duty. So there is little reason to believe he won't do the same with Brombacher this season. If he chooses to pull Brombacher for whatever reason, his options would be Ensley Gammel (13-2, 2.12 ERA) and Erin Schuppert (1-0, 2.50 ERA).


But Walton has proven to be a big-game coach the last several seasons, with his decision-making usually right on target.


The only thing left to complete his already impressive resume is that elusive National Championship.


All he has to do is beat the most successful softball team ever to get one step closer to that goal.