The Florida Gators have the nation’s No. 1 pitching staff and No. 1 pitcher.
The University of Alabama softball team will try to match top-seeded UF pitch for pitch at the Gainesville Super Regional that starts Thursday.
The Crimson Tide may have just the ingredients needed to duel with Florida’s Kelly Barnhill and Delanie Gourley. Senior Sydney Littlejohn and junior Alexis Osorio have a combined 0.71 ERA in seven head-to-head meetings with UF dating back over the previous three seasons. If you’re not familiar with softball stats, that means they are giving up an average of less than three-quarters of a run per game.
Choosing a side might be a coin flip.
“I’m going with Alabama, of course,” said UA catcher Reagan Dykes, who, naturally, has a built-in bias.
In 18 innings spread over three appearances against Florida, Littlejohn has allowed just one earned run for a 0.39 ERA. She has given up 13 hits with six walks and two strikeouts.
Osorio has thrown 21 1/3 innings over five appearances vs. the Gators, giving up three runs for a 0.98 ERA. She has 23 strikeouts while yielding 16 hits with three walks.
And those numbers didn’t come against average Florida teams. The Gators were ranked No. 1 or 2 in every one of those meetings save one – a national championship game in 2014.
“We have two All-Americans on our staff, and Osorio’s going to be an All-American again, no doubt,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
Alabama will need them.
Florida has two of the top four in the individual ERA category. Barnhill leads the country in ERA (0.35) and strikeouts per seven innings (13.4), with lefty Gourley fourth in ERA (0.71). Alabama ranks ninth in team ERA with two of the top 20 individuals. Osorio is 12th in ERA (1.17) and fifth in strikeouts per seven innings (11.7); Littlejohn is 20th in ERA (1.28).
In last weekend’s Tuscaloosa Regional, Osorio and Littlejohn combined to shut out a potent Minnesota team for 16 innings in a two-game sweep.
“I think our pitchers are throwing the best that they have right now of the season, for sure,” Murphy said. “Both of them are at the top of their game.”
Dykes’ vantage from behind the plate allows her to best see what makes Alabama’s duo so effective. The two right-handers have different approaches.
“Sydney’s going to give you what she has every game,” Dykes said. “She has the curveball that she can just move it and place it wherever she wants to, and that’s key for her is the control that she has with the ball.
“Lex throws a little harder. She has the riseball and she has just enough spin on the ball and it has that little jump on the end that gets the hitters every time.”
Their approach is aggressive: “Our goal is always to go at people and we just want to attack the zone,” Littlejohn said after the Tuscaloosa Regional.
Minnesota third baseman Danielle Parlich saw all she wanted of both.
“They’re great pitchers, you can’t deny that,” she said. “They’re very consistent. They’ll go right at you. They’ll come hard in, which is a great pitch that every pitcher should have, and they’re very confident.”
The Gators give up very little, much like Alabama. In a best-of-three series with all this pitching, the team that advances to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series might be the one that finds a way to generate just a little offense.
“It’s going to be a close game,” Dykes said, “but just get two or three runs on the board and I think we’ll have success.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
Gainesville Super Regional
Alabama at Florida
Where: Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Schedule: Thursday at 6 p.m. CT, Friday at 6 p.m. CT, Saturday (if necessary) at 4 p.m. CT
Records: Alabama 45-16, Florida 53-7
TV: All games ESPN
Radio: 93.3 FM