The nerves crept in on Natalie Lugo.
The score was not close, but the sophomore pitcher was playing in her first career NCAA Tournament game and was maintaining a combined no-hitter.
“I tried not to tell myself that there’s a no hitter,” Lugo said. “The same way as when you try to say it out loud to jinx, I think it happens in your mind too.”
Lugo pumped in a 2-2 pitch to Boise State right fielder Ashlyn Adams with two outs in the fifth inning. Adams skied the offering. The ball drifted into foul territory and dropped into the glove of third baseman Hannah Sipos.
The out ended the inning and finished the game for the UF softball team, which defeated the Broncos in a 8-0 run-rule win behind a combined no-hitter from Lugo and starter Kelly Barnhill. Lugo picked up her eighth victory of the season, and Florida is one win away from advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals.
Florida started strong behind the arm of Barnhill, who finished with three strikeouts in two innings. She walked leadoff batter Kora Wade in the bottom of the first. However, Barnhill struck out the next two batters, and catcher Jordan Roberts threw out Wade as she attempted to steal second to end the frame.
Lugo pitched three perfect innings to end the game and picked up two strikeouts of her own.
“Natalie was obviously the player of the game for us,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “She hasn’t pitched in the (NCAA) postseason, so this was a big moment.”
UF relied on a hot offensive start for all eight of its runs. The team scored six runs on a two-out rally in the top of the first and added two in the second. It didn’t even record a hit, however, before scoring its first run.
Broncos starting pitcher Gianna Mancha loaded the bases on three straight walks with two outs in the first. A passed ball allowed second baseman Hannah Adams to score the first run of contest.
Mancha walked right fielder Jaimie Hoover and relinquished a two-RBI bloop single to Jade Caraway before exiting the game.
Veronica Lynch replaced Mancha but allowed three straight RBI singles to Sipos, center fielder Alex Voss and first baseman Amanda Lorenz, making the score 6-0.
Adams led off the second inning with a double and scored three at-bats later on a single to left field by Hoover. The right fielder advanced to third on an errant throw by Boise State left fielder Jessica McKay, and scored on a single by Caraway in the next at-bat.
Adams and Caraway led the way offensively for the Gators. Adams went 2 for 2 and scored two runs, while Caraway went 2 for 2 with three RBIs and a run scored.
Florida’s six through nine hitters produced five of the team’s eight hits and six of its seven RBIs.
“I’m just happy that we’ve played a lot better and been more fun to watch and get our fans a lot more energy to cheer us on,” Walton said. “That’s one of things I’ve been talking to our team about, our home field advantage hasn’t been there this year because we haven’t been very fun to watch.”
Follow Mark Stine on Twitter @mstinejr. Contact him at email@example.com.
Pitchers Kelly Barnhill and Natalie Lugo pitched a combined no-hitter as Florida advanced to the Gainesville Regional Final.