Bridget Sloan’s comeback was spoiled Friday night as No. 2 Florida fell to an energized No. 3 LSU in Baton Rouge.
The Tigers defeated the Gators 197.950-197.425, feeding off their record home crowd and taking advantage of every opportunity to get their 12,217 fans riled up.
Florida handled the hostile environment well through nearly three rotations, but then it all began to fall apart - literally.
In Florida’s final floor routine, Bridgette Caquatto was forced to sit down during an early tumbling pass, resulting in a 9.300. The Gators (5-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) were able to drop the score, but the momentum shift carried over to beam.
There, Kennedy Baker fell in the leadoff spot for Florida, placing the pressure on the rest of the lineup to be mistake-free. And while there were no significant errors, the stress was evident in the Gators’ body language throughout the rest of the routine, and no one managed to score above a 9.875.
LSU (9-1, 6-0 SEC), meanwhile, continued to build momentum and pulled away from Florida.
“Tough loss, no doubt,” coach Rhonda Faehn said in a release. “I was proud of the way the athletes performed. They showed a lot of heart and competed really aggressively from start to finish.
“It was different than at Alabama earlier this season as they competed more aggressively tonight. There is no doubt that they fought as a team.”
On the bright side for Florida, Sloan’s return to action was as successful as she could have hoped. The junior scored a 9.900 on bars and looked as if she had been training for months.
“She was great,” Faehn said. “We are really hoping to get her back on beam in the next two weeks and maybe by SECs on vault. She was solid, aggressive and a team leader throughout the event tonight.”
And in spite of the loss, Florida’s score of 197.425 is the highest road score for the team this season and is its third-highest score overall.
After the first two rotations, the meet was almost a dead-heat.
Florida held a slim 49.450-49.425 lead after the first event for each team, with senior Kytra Hunter performing a season-best 9.925 bars routine.
The Gators lost the lead after the second rotation, but still scored a 49.425 on vault. Alex McMurtry performed a sensational routine similar to her perfect 10 against Auburn early in the year, although the judges disagreed - giving it an oh-so-close 9.975.
But Florida’s floor performance was lackluster, even before Caquatto’s stumble.
Other than a 9.950 from Baker, the rest of the Gator lineup lacked the firepower and confidence it displayed just one week ago against Missouri, putting up scores in the mid-to-low 9.8 range.
And after the aforementioned back-to-back falls, LSU took control and never looked back.
Follow Graham Hack on Twitter @graham_hack24
Rhonda Faehn watches her teammates compete during Florida's win against Georgia on Jan. 30.