Tennessee co-head softball coach Ralph Weekly didn’t get any surprises for his team’s opening game of the Women’s College World Series.
In fact, Weekly already penciled Florida in for Thursday’s game after the Lady Vols advanced Saturday to the WCWS with a 5-3 victory over Alabama in an NCAA Super Regional at Lee Stadium to win the best-of-three series 2-0.
“Guess who we got now?” Weekly said in his post-game press conference. “Florida, first round.”
Weekly was a bit premature.
Florida hadn’t advanced yet.
But the Gators did move into the WCWS against the Lady Vols with a 1-0 victory over UAB (40-19) on Sunday in Gainesville, Fla., to win the series 2-0.
The WCWS starts Thursday in Oklahoma City with the Lady Vols (49-10), the No. 7 seed nationally, scheduled to play Florida (57-7), the No. 2 seed, at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN. A win puts UT in a winners’ bracket game on Friday and a defeat in the losers’ bracket game the following day. No. 11 Washington (41-15) and No. 14 Nebraska (45-13) are matched in UT’s half of the bracket in the double-elimination tournament.
Weekly expects a tight game against the Gators.
“Actually, our last four games against Florida have gone eight innings,” Weekly said. “The final one last year and then these three (this regular season).”
UT lost two of three against the Gators on March 15-17 — all in eight
innings at Gainesville.
Florida won the opener 6-5; the Lady Vols won the second game, 3-1; Florida won the third, 5-3.
“What a great opponent, but we can’t get out of the SEC, so that’s who we’re going to be playing in Oklahoma City,” Weekly said.
Weekly was reminded of a post-game press conference May 11 after the Lady Vols lost to Missouri 3-0 in the SEC tournament.
“I remember sitting in the room with (reporters) up at the SEC, and one reporter said, ‘Well, you’re finally out of the SEC,’ after the SEC tournament,” Weekly said. “I said, “No, last year we had to play Georgia, and then we opened against Alabama in the World Series.”
Last year, UT beat Georgia in the NCAA Super Regional — winning 2-1 in Game 3 — before facing Alabama in the opener of the WCWS.
Alabama beat the Lady Vols, 5-3. Oregon State eliminated UT with a 3-1 victory in the double-elimination format.
Now, the Lady Vols are back again — and looking to prove their grit like they did Saturday by rallying from a 3-0 deficit against Alabama.
“A lot of people in general to me have questioned our toughness and guts, and I think today we showed that we have that and it’s always been there,” UT third baseman Raven Chavanne said. “It wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win, and I will take it any way.”
Weekly doesn’t question his team’s toughness.
“I think again what (UT players) said was a lot of people said Tennessee is really talented, but sometimes they can’t win the big ones,” Weekly said. “We’ve won some big ones before, but you know, I don’t think our team is much different than others except we always had that little cloud hanging over us, and I think this was a huge victory, especially coming from behind against a great team.”
Dave Link is a freelance contributor.