The UF softball team was trying to avoid the sweep as it trailed 3-0 in the sixth inning on Saturday. Sophia Reynoso and Alex Voss stood on second and third with one out, presenting Florida’s best scoring opportunity of the day against Alabama.
Hannah Adams stepped into the batter’s box and smacked a line-shot. Crimson Tide shortstop Claire Jenkins caught the ball and tossed it over to third baseman Maddie Morgan, who received it just as Voss slid back into the bag.
The play was extremely close. Third base umpire John Baca called Voss out, and the double play ended the inning.
UF coach Tim Walton disagreed with the call, and he let Baca know.
The hat was thrown. Dirt was kicked. An explicative or two was said. And Walton was ejected.
UF’s best scoring chance evaporated due to an umpire’s decision, but the team went 0 for 19 with runners in scoring position for the series, stranded 24 runners in total and scored only two runs. The Gators were swept at home for the first time since 2011, and the frustrations of the weekend compounded for Walton.
The double-play call was just what brought those frustrations to life.
“I think the key of the game is that we got no hits with runners in scoring position today, not one single one,” Walton said after Friday’s doubleheader with Alabama. “I don’t know very many games we’ve ever won when we don’t get a hit with a runner in scoring position.”
Florida’s failure to capitalize on scoring opportunities isn’t new. It’s an issue it has dealt with all season.
The team was on an eight-game win streak heading into its series with Alabama. However, the eight wins followed three straight losses, which culminated in a home defeat to Florida State on April 3.
After that loss, FloridaGators.com writer Chris Harry asked the coach if he thought hitting would be an issue back in February, when the season began.
Walton said he saw it as an issue during fall softball in October and November.
The Gators’ “power lineup” was a big focus heading into the 2019 campaign. Mid-lineup options Jordan Roberts, Jordan Matthews, Danielle Romanello and Jaimie Hoover all showed promise in 2018.
Roberts and Hoover combined for 10 home runs as sophomores and looked poised to produce in a starting capacity as juniors. Matthews started 60 games as a freshman and hit the series-clinching home run in the 2018 NCAA Super Regionals. Romanello had two clutch hits against Alabama last season to lift UF to a series victory.
These players are each in the top four on the team in strikeouts this season, with Roberts leading at 41.
Against the Crimson Tide, Roberts and Matthews went a combined 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and 0 for 12 overall. Hoover was 1 for 7 for the weekend. Romanello, who has 27 strikeouts to just 16 hits for the year, didn’t see an at-bat.
“For two or three of those players in particular that probably stranded over half of those runners, that’s been the MO for them all season long,” Walton said. “Unfortunately, I wish I could say that was uncharacteristic of us. It’s not.”
Walton hoped freshman Cheyenne Lindsey would contribute heavily to the offense this season and provide some diversity next to the power hitters. However, the five-star recruit is easing back from an ACL injury and has played in a limited capacity. Lindsey is batting just .184 with seven hits and 10 strikeouts.
“We can’t hit. We can’t do anything. We can’t bunt,” Walton said on April 3. “If you can’t run, you can’t hit and run, you can’t steal and you can’t hit home runs, that’s a pretty short season.”
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Florida coach Tim Walton was ejected on Saturday after arguing a force play at third base.