Gainesville, Fla. -- The Hatters may be in unfamiliar terriority, but they will be facing a familiar opponent.
After a solid week of practice, the Stetson University softball team boarded its charter bus Thursday and made the short trip to Gainesville in preparation for this weekend's NCAA Regional at the Univerisity of Florida.
Making their second appearance in NCAA postseason play, the Hatters (38-12) will open the Gainesville Regional at 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon against the UCF Knights (41-16), an opponent Stetson faced twice during the regular season. The winner will play the winner of the Florida-Florida A&M game at 1 p.m. Saturday afernoon. The four-team, double-elimination regional continues through Sunday. All games will be broadcast for free on GatorVision.tv.
"I am real happy with opening against UCF," Stetson head coach Frank Griffin said. "They are a friendly rival. I have known Renee (Luers-Gillispie) a long time now; she has has a good team, and they are well coached. They have a lot of good talent. We played with them for two ball games and came ahead of them in one of them, and I think it is a good draw for us."
The Hatters will look for a strong effort from their pitching and defense, just as they have had all season long. Stetson enters the weekend ranked 11th in the nation in ERA (1.77) and 14th in fielding percentage (.973). The Hatters have committed just six errors in their last 15 games, good for a .987 clip. Third baseman Brittany Hawn has played errorless ball over the last 30 games.
In the circle, Meredith Owen enters the regional with a 26-7 overall record and a 0.84 ERA. That mark ranks second in the NCAA and is tops among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. The Atlantic Sun Championship Most Valuable Player was 4-0 with a 0.50 ERA in 28 innings for the Hatters last week.
At the plate, Stetson maintains a .298 batting average with 44 home runs. The team is having its best season of all-time in terms of slugging percentage (.462) and on-base average (.382). The Hatters are also averaging 5.3 runs per game, although they averaged just 2.8 runs during the Atlantic Sun tournament.
"We need to hit," Griffin said. "Don't attempt to hit, go to the plate and hit, and we'll fare well."
In Stetson's first NCAA appearance in 2007, the Hatters played as the regional's No. 4 seed and lost to Florida 7-0 and Texas 2-0.
This year the Hatters are the No. 3 seed, and they hope the experience of playing four tightly-contested, low-scoring games in last week's A-Sun tournament will serve as a winning formula this week.
"We had to be on our game through all seven innings every single game," junior Amanda Grimaldo said. "I think that really prepared us a lot."
The winner of the Gainesville Regional will advance to face the winner of the Seattle Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional, May 22-25. The teams in the Seattle Regional are Washington, Northwestern, BYU, and Iona.
What will it take for the Hatters to be successful?
"We have to play a balanced ball game with defense, pitching, and offense," Griffin said. "There are going to be a lot of fans there, and we have to ignore all that and not have any distractions. We have to try to keep the anxiety down, stay focused, and just play our game."
Ticket information, as well as free live video and live stats can be found on the University of Florida website. The Stetson softball twitter feed and the Hat-Alerts text messaging system will provde in-game updates as well.
Notes: Frank Griffin has coach 999 games at Stetson. He is 611-388 in 18 seasons ... Stetson is one home run shy of tying the school record of 45, set last year ... Stetson did not face Florida or Florida A&M this season, but did defeat Florida A&M 11-0 last season.