By: Greg Levinsky
Boston University softball heads south to the swamps of Gainesville, Florida this weekend for the 2019 NCAA Tournament. With plenty of regional experience in hand, head coach Ashley Waters is confident in her team’s ability to content.
“I think having that experience and going through it, you kind of learn what it’s all about,” said Waters, who has guided BU to three NCAA Tournament appearances in her four seasons at the helm. “There’s no better atmosphere than being at a regional. I’m really proud of our kids that have done it. They’re veterans and know how to step up in big games.”
The Terriers (37-18) open up against the host and No. 5 overall seeded Gators (44-15), Friday at 2:30 p.m. The double elimination tournament also features Boise State (34-14) and Stanford (32-18).
BU plays a tough spring schedule, and this year faced top-ranked teams in Tennessee, Arkansas and UCLA. The latter is the No. 2 overall seed.
“Our preseason is incredibly difficult so we can prepare for this,” Waters said. “We play the top teams in the country in hopes that in the end of the year if we get matched up with them that it’s a little less scary, that you realize you’re getting ready the same way. The game is the same.”
Waters anticipates tactically that “the speed of the game” will be the greatest challenge.
“It’s just moving things a little bit faster, getting the ball out of your glove a little bit faster,” Waters said. “It’s going to take a really solid performance, defensively, offensively and pitching wise for us to compete with them.”
Looking at season statistics can be skewed. While Florida is not a top-50 team in terms of batting average, they are undoubtedly one of the top forces in the nation. Playing in the SEC, which accounts for 13 of the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament creates a NCAA championship caliber schedule every weekend.
Florida won the SEC Tournament title. Senior Amanda Lorenz leads the Gators with a .421 batting average. She also is second on the team with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs. Junior Kendyl Lindaman leads Florida with 14 home runs, 51 RBIs and boasts a .341 batting average.
Pitching ace Kelly Barnhill is in the midst of a stellar senior season for the Gators with a 30-11 record, 1.57 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 241.0 innings pitched.
BU is led by two-time Patriot League Player of the Year Alex Heinen. The senior catcher is batting .333 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs. Senior second baseman Emily Morrow (.315 average, 25 RBIs), freshman AJ Huerta-Leipner (.289 average, 11 doubles, 7 home runs, 27 RBIs) join Heinen at the top of the order in a deep and potent lineup.
Conference Pitcher of the Year sophomore Ali DuBois (23-9, 1.32 ERA) and All-Patriot League First Teamer freshman Emily Gant (13-7, 1.56 ERA, 149 strikeouts in 134.1 innings) make up a dynamic duo in the circle.
Despite the tremendous challenge ahead, the Terriers stuck to their same practice tactics.
“It’s similar to what we’ve been doing, I don’t like to change too much,” Waters said. “We prepare hard every single day.”
Greg Levinsky can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregLevinsky