Fans of both the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles are truly passionate about a small handful of sports. Sure, they want to beat the other when they play each other in whatever sport, but the mutual intensity is reserved for football, baseball, basketball or all three.
For example, grief counselors are not required if the golf team comes up short or a gymnast falls off the uneven bars leading to the loss of a gymnastics meet.
The same has been true for women’s softball, but a growing number are beginning to pay attention and to care about the sport. It has become a true rivalry and worth the attention of fans of both schools.
Wednesday night was the second meeting of the season between top-ranked Florida and second-ranked Florida State. In the first game, played April 12 before a record crowd at raucous Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, the Gators scored a 1-0 walk-off victory over then-No. 1 FSU.
“You couldn’t even hear yourself think a lot of times, so I’m so proud of this environment,” said Gators’ Coach Tim Walton. “Two of the best programs in the country, in the same state, brings out the best in everybody.”
Wednesday’s rematch had the same atmosphere. A record, standing-room-only crowd jammed into JoAnne Graf Field, spilling over into nearby areas offering any kind of view. Nearby streets had to be closed by FSU Police.
Despite the incredible performance by Gators’ ace Kelly Barnhill, who fanned 21 batters in 10-plus innings, a towering walk-off homer by FSU’s Alex Powers in the 11th inning lifted the Seminoles to the victory.
“We’ve worked really hard here to build everything, every facet,” said Seminoles’ Coach Lonni Alameda. “So, it’s really cool that people are starting to see the excitement. And what a great game they saw tonight.”
The Seminoles have been playing softball since 1978 and have never had a losing season. They have won 13 ACC Championships and been to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) 8 times, but have never won. FSU did win two national titles under the old Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1981 and 1982.
Their stadium is named after the legendary JoAnne Graf, who coached the team from 1984-2008. She is 7th all-time in career coaching victories.
Florida’s program is only 20 years old. During that span, they have won 6 SEC Championships.
In 2014 and 2015, Florida won the WCWS. Both were under the coaching leadership of Walton.
Going into Wednesday’s game, Florida had won 18 of the previous 19 head-to-head meetings between the two schools, including the last 9 in Tallahassee. The Gators lead the all-time series 24-15.
Provided the NCAA does not put these teams together in a Super Regional (like they do the baseball teams), both are good enough to make it to the WCWS in Oklahoma City next month. If so, the fan base of both teams will continue to grow.