The biggest stretch of games in the 2017 season begins Thursday as No. 16 Alabama battles No. 1 Florida in the NCAA Super Regional from Gainesville, Florida.

The matchup marks the first time this season that the Crimson Tide and Gators have squared off this season.

Only NCAA Softball Team to Reach Every Super Regional

Alabama’s softball continues their historic journey under head coach Patrick Murphy. Out of nearly 300 softball programs in NCAA Division I, the Crimson Tide is the only program to appear in every NCAA Super Regional.

Alabama will play in their 13th Super Regional as they have won nine of the previous 12 Super Regionals and have an all-time Super Regional record of 19-8.

Pitching and Defensive Excellence

As the Women’s College World Series is approaching on the horizon, both Alabama and Florida have advanced to late May thanks to outstanding pitching and defense.

Florida leads the conference with a 0.71 team ERA while Alabama is second with a 1.51 team ERA. The two teams also are the top two in the SEC in strikeouts with the Gators leading the way with 597 strikeouts while the Crimson Tide has 531 strikeouts.

Expect plenty of fireworks from the circle as Alabama’s Alexis Osorio and Florida’s Kelly Barnhill have dominated opponents throughout the season. Osorio leads the SEC with 318 strikeouts while Barnhill is close behind with 310 strikeouts.

While Barnhill has proven to be a masterful strikeout pitcher, she has also stymied opposing teams on the scoreboard. The sophomore right hander leads the country with a 0.35 ERA while senior left handed pitcher Delanie Gourley ranks fourth in college softball with a 0.71 ERA.

During his visit Tuesday morning on The Gary Harris Show, Murphy provided a scouting report on the Florida’s top two pitchers.

“(Delanie) Gourley is the lefty with the nasty change-up and then (Kelly) Barnhill is the one that’s kind of emerged this year as their number one. She’s a righty that throws 66-70 miles an hour, mainly rise balls, not much off-speed.” Murphy said.

Just as important as the pitching has been for both teams, their defense has complimented them very well. Florida has been the best fielding team in the SEC with only 21 errors in 60 games while Alabama is third in the conference with 37 errors in 61 games.

Fielding in last week’s regional round proved to be a huge asset for the Tide as they did not commit an error in 23 innings of play against Minnesota and Albany. Florida was almost flawless in the field as they recorded one fielding error in 25 innings of play.

Patrick Murphy discussed how fielding was an area that he was proud of last week.

“One thing that I was really proud of, we didn’t commit an error all weekend. When the games are 1-0, you really can’t afford to make an error.” Murphy said.

Demi Turner’s Return to the Lineup

In addition to winning the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional, the Crimson Tide celebrated the triumphant return of junior infielder Demi Turner.

Turner started two games in the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional after missing five weeks of action due to injury. Turner went 3-5 with a walk in three games played last weekend.

During his conversation with Gary Harris, Patrick Murphy touched on how the team battled through adversity for much of the season to arrive at the door step of a possible WCWS appearance.

“I was really proud of the team because they could have folded their tents when Demi (Turner) got hurt, when Madi (Moore) got her concussion, when Merris (Schroder) got her concussion. She was leading the team in hitting and had an 18-game hitting streak and then missed 11 days.” Murphy said.

Alabama and Florida begin Super Regional Play Thursday at 6 PM with Friday’s first pitch also at 6 PM. Saturday’s possible third game begins at 4 PM. ESPN will televise all three games.

College Softball around Alabama

No. 7 Auburn has an opportunity to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City for third consecutive season. The Tigers face No. 10 Oklahoma beginning Friday afternoon at 3 PM. The contest is a rematch of the season opener in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico when Auburn defeated Oklahoma 3-2.

Sophomore infielder Kendall Veach smashed two round trippers while Makayla Martin limited the Sooners to two runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings pitched.