TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Top-ranked Florida State and No. 3 Florida offered similar sentiments when previewing their Wednesday-night showdown in Gainesville (7 p.m., SEC Network).
Fans of trash talk and bulletin-board material will be sorely disappointed.
“It’s another middle-of-the-week game,” UF coach Tim Walton told FloridaGators.com.
“Every game is the same for us,” FSU third baseman Jessica Warren echoed. “Prepare for every game like it’s our last game.”
The truth is that this won’t be Florida State’s last game. And the Seminoles have goals that reach far beyond winning in Gainesville in mid-April.
But, despite rising to the top of college softball during coach Lonni Alameda’s nine-year tenure, there’s still a blank space on FSU’s resume:
The Gators have had FSU’s number for an awfully long time.
The Seminoles haven’t beaten Florida in more than three years and, remarkably, are 1-16 against UF since 2007.
That, of course, will have little bearing on what happens Wednesday: FSU’s seniors know what it feels like to beat Florida, and, anyway, the Seminoles’ freshmen were still in elementary school back in 2007.
Still, for a team that’s won 24 straight games and has legitimate national-title aspirations, conquering their rivals to the southeast – at their place, no less – could be an important milestone.
“It’d be awesome,” senior Ellie Cooper said.
“It would be great to get a ‘W’ down there,” Warren added. “But we’re not really focused on winning the game before we start the game.”
Warren said she’d rather focus on the things that have gotten the Seminoles this far – specifically an intense devotion to scouting and preparation.
When she turns on UF’s film, Warren will see a pitching staff that boasts the nation’s best earned-runs average (0.72) and has allowed opponents to hit just .146.
Complicating matters is that UF has three quality starting pitchers, all with sub-1.00 ERAs and all with a different skill set that can keep opposing hitters off-balance.
Walton has yet to announce which of Kelly Barnhill (14-0, 0.24), Delanie Gourley (13-2, 0.83) or Aleshia Ocasio (7-0, 0.84) will get the nod on Wednesday.
“There’s three different looks,” Alameda said. “They all spin the ball and they all mix speeds. Hitting is all about timing and the ability to mess with that timing. You’ve really got to prepare for three different looks and, in a single game, that’s tough to do.”
Then again, the Seminoles haven’t run into many pitching staffs they couldn’t handle this year.
FSU leads the nation in team batting average (.367), on-base percentage (.469) and ranks second in runs scored (315).
The Seminoles’ pitchers are hardly slouches, either – fifth-year senior Jessica Burroughs is 20-1 with a 0.60 ERA, while third-year sophomore Meghan King is right behind her with a 17-0 record and 1.50 ERA.
“This is going to be a fun game,” Alameda said. “I love rivalry games. We have a great one with Florida. They’re a great program. So we’re really excited. But, in reality, we’ve had a great schedule this year.”
And it’s about to get even better.
After they leave Gainesville, the Seminoles will head to Columbia, S.C., for two games at Southeastern Conference foe South Carolina. From there, FSU will play at Troy and then at Louisville to wrap up a stretch of 11 straight road games.
“We couldn’t be at a better time for us right now as a team to go into what we’re going into, with playing Florida and South Carolina on the road,” Alameda said. “It’s a good time for us to get this level of challenge.”