For the second year in a row, USF Softball is headed to the Gainesville Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, USF overcame the 5th-seeded Gators, UCF and FCGU in the all-Florida regional. This year, the Gators are even better, ranked #2/3 in the country.
Joining the Bulls and Gators are the Georgia Southern Eagles and Hampton Lady Pirates. Let's take a look at the other entrants in the Gainesville Regional.
USF first matches up with Georgia Southern on Friday. After finishing the regular season just a game over .500 at 28-27, and third in the Southern Conference, the Eagles found there way into the NCAA tournament by winning the Southern Conference tournament.
The Eagles pitched their way into the NCAAs, allowing 3 runs or less in its 5 conference tournament games, including two shut-outs. Georgia Southern avoided conference #1 seed Appalachian State, who lost back-to-back games early in the tournament. The Eagles only loss was a walk-off single to College of Charleston, whom the Eagles defeated in their next game. They won the championship game in a 1-0, 11-inning nail-biter over UNC-Greensboro, that featured a walk-off homer in the 11th by shortstop Kourtny Thomas.
Georgia Southern is led by sophomore pitcher Sarah Purvis, who sports a 1.86 ERA, and gave up five runs over a herculean 24.2 innings during the four-day SoCon tournament. She pitched all 11 innings in the title game shut-out.
DH Shelby Morrill paced the Eagles with a .344 average and 6 home runs.
Also on Friday, the Florida Gators will face the Hampton Lady Pirates
Florida finished the regular season 49-7, good enough for a 2nd seed in the NCAAs. The Gators are one of 11 SEC teams in the NCAA tournament. The Gators won the SEC tournament over Missouri in front of a record crowd in Lexington, Ky. They finished the tournament with a 3-0 record and won all three games by 4 runs or more. However, they also gave up at least 4 runs in each game.
Defeating the Gators in Gainesville will be a monumental task for the three visitors, as Florida mounted an imposing 27-3 home record. Florida was unbeaten at home versus non-conference competition. The Gators feature four hitters with averages over .300, led by Kelsey Stewart's .398 average.
Two-way player Lauren Heager hit .323 with 17 homers, while also posting a 2.31 ERA and 15 wins. SEC Tournament MVP Kristi Merritt hit .305 for the season and led the team with an on-base percentage of .480.
Rounding out the group is Hampton. To get their place in the NCAAs, the Pirates won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, defeating rival Norfolk St after losing to the Spartans in the previous game. It was their first MEAC tournament victory in 17 years. They led the conference with a breezy 16-2 record in conference play, and finished 34-24 overall.
Freshman Taylor McCoy lead the Pirates with a .404 batting average and a .471 OBP. The MEAC Tournament MVP, McCoy also hit 5 home runs. Hampton had four players who hit over .300 on the season. And they needed it, because only sophomore pitcher Jailynn Jackson (2.49 ERA) had an ERA under 5.42
*All information gathered from SoCon, SEC and MEAC websites.