What to expect: Alabama-Florida

May, 31, 2009
Alabama vs. Florida
3 p.m. ET | ESPN

Pitching: Stacey Nelson was arguably the best pitcher in the country over the course of the regular season and first two weeks of the NCAA tournament (and it was strictly a two-pitcher argument between Nelson and Danielle Lawrie). So to say she's taken her game to another level at the Women's College World Series suggests exactly how difficult a task it will be for Alabama to win once, let alone twice, Sunday. Nelson has allowed just three hits in two starts in Oklahoma City, striking out 21 and walking just three without hitting a batter.

Things have not gone as smoothly for Kelsi Dunne, who presumably will get the start in the game Alabama needs to force a second game Sunday. But if Dunne hasn't been perfect, walking six and hitting one against Michigan in the opener and serving up a long home run to Arizona State's Katie Crabbe on Saturday, her imperfection has been revealing. A pitcher who sometimes struggles to push through squeezed strike zones, perceived or real, she took everything in stride against the Sun Devils and retired nine of the final 10 batters she faced after the Crimson Tide reclaimed the lead.

Florida handed Dunne one her worst losses of the season when the teams met in late March, piling up nine runs while managing to leave 11 runners on base. But she also bounced back the next day to beat the Gators, striking out 13. Dunne can occasionally hand out too many walks, and Florida is a team that loves to set the table for its power by taking free passes, so the size of the strike zone will be a key to the action.

Hitting: With a lineup that has power stretching from leadoff hitter Aja Paculba all the way down to Kim Waleszonia in the No. 9 hole, Florida has enough depth to pile up runs in a hurry. As it has proved in the World Series, it also has the depth to erase a lot of lean innings with one, quick swing of the bat. A lot of Gators have had success against the Crimson Tide -- they've scored 31 runs in four games against them -- but Kelsey Bruder, Aja Paculba and Francesca Enea have enjoyed particular success. There's not a long history of success against Nelson for Alabama to build on, but Charlotte Morgan's home run in the SEC tournament was the first Nelson allowed all season. Lauren Parker has also managed to pick up some hits against Florida's ace over the past two seasons.

Fielding: Nelson's dominance hasn't forced the Gators to work hard in the field -- half of the outs needed have come by way of strikeout. Alabama was uncharacteristically porous in its loss here against Michigan. It rebounded nicely Saturday but did commit four errors in four games this season against Florida.

Player to watch: Jazlyn Lunceford
The hero of Alabama's win Saturday against Arizona State, when her pinch hit grand slam gave the Crimson Tide a lead they wouldn't relinquish, Lunceford may get a chance at a few more at-bats. The positive vibes of the grand slam don't hurt, but Lunceford also has a history against Nelson. In Alabama's lone win against the Gators, the freshman had two hits, including a triple, and two RBIs.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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