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Saturday, May 25, 2024

For more than four minutes in the second half Wednesday, No. 17 Florida was daring someone to come out and guard them.

Unfortunately for the Gators’ offense, the Retrievers weren’t biting.

After seeing UF go on a 6-0 run to start the first half and score two goals within 1:30 to begin the final period, Maryland Baltimore County had enough of playing the Gators’ fast-paced game and packed their 11 defenders within the 12-meter arc.

“UMBC came out and played very smart in the second half … they stymied us for a little while, so we just needed to get our composure back,” UF coach Amanda O’Leary said.

Sophomore Kitty Cullen finally broke the stalemate when she was fouled making a run at the goal in the 16th minute. With the ensuing free-position shot, she whipped the ball past the tallest player on the field, 5-foot-10 UMBC goalie Kendall Mason, for one of her five scores.

The Gators (3-1) went on another 6-0 run over the next 6:14, led by Cullen’s two scores in 14 seconds, en route to a 16-6 victory Wednesday night at Dizney Stadium.

“We have a lot of offensive firepower for sure, and again it’s just a matter of getting them their opportunities,” O’Leary said. “They’ve been lucky enough and good enough to actually make the goals count when needed.”

After 21 minutes without a goal to end the first half, the Gators came back with the necessary adjustments. Sophomore Ashley Bruns said UMBC (1-1) recognized UF’s tendency to dump the ball to a cutting player about 12 feet from the goal.

“They started to send the double [team] earlier, so we just had to see the backside for the open player so we could finish the play,” she said. “We just had to keep going and going and getting the shots off.”

Bruns scored four times and dished out the game’s only assist to sophomore Janine Hillier. Bruns said the Gators got out of their scoreless funk thanks mostly to Hillier’s work on faceoffs.

“There is no shot clock like basketball, so whoever has the possession of the ball mostly throughout the game, that’s basically who’s going to come out with the win,” Hillier said.

The Gators snagged a season-high 19 draw controls off Hillier’s faceoffs, an advantage of 14 possessions. The sophomore grabbed the ball five times on the faceoff to give Florida the quick possession.

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“It’s huge. I don’t know really what to equate it to in other sports, but when you can possess the ball they can’t score,” O’Leary said. “So, it puts you at a distinct advantage to possess the ball right off the bat.”

After four games in 12 days, the Gators get a 10-day rest before their next contest March 5 at home against Lehigh (1-0).

“There is no such thing as a break if you’re going to win games,” Hillier said. “So, we’re just going to practice hard and rest our bodies as best as we can.”

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