The Long Beach State softball team will face its biggest challenge of the season Wednesday when it hosts defending National Champion and No.1 Florida.
“It’s just another game, it’s just another team,” senior outfielder Christina Montoya said. “I’m more concerned about us and how we’re going to play.”
The 49ers (10-10) are 1-2 against ranked opponents, their lone win coming against No. 12 UCLA on Feb. 27.
Junior infielder Darian Tautalafua, who is one home run shy of tying Nalani St. Germain’s school record of 30 home runs, said the team approaches every game with the same mindset regardless of opponent.
“[The Gators] are the national champions and everything, but we just need to remember that [it’s just another game.],” Tautalafua said.
The Gators (21-0) won their first ever College World Series last year with a 2-0 series sweep of Alabama.
Players returning from that championship team include senior infielder Lauren Haeger and Team USA junior infielder Kelsey Stewart.
Stewart and Haeger are the Gators’ top offensive threats. Stewart leads Florida in hits (24), doubles (7), triples (3) and stolen bases (8), while Haeger leads in home runs (6), runs batted in (25) and walks (14).
Haeger is also Florida’s top pitcher. She leads the Gators earned run average (0.46), wins (9), innings pitched (46.0) and strikeouts (68). The two-way star earned National Player of the Week awards for pitching and offense earlier this season.
Head coach Kim Sowder said the 49ers need to play well in all areas of the game if they want any chance of wrestling down the Gators.
“We’re going to have to have a good pitching performance,” Sowder said. “Obviously [Florida] is a very good offensive team. We’re going to have to find a way to put some runs on the board. We’re going to have to play really good softball.”
Sophomore right-hander Christina Clermont, who is 4-2 on the season with a 2.36 ERA in 13 appearances, has established herself as the team’s top pitcher. Clermont, who is averaging nearly one strikeout per inning, is the likely starter against Florida.
First pitch is set for 2 p.m. at the 49er Softball Complex.