This wasn’t the biggest moment of designated player Jordan Matthews’ collegiate career, but it sure was close.
The sophomore, who sent the Florida softball team to the Women’s College World Series last season with a walkoff home run, came just short of doing the same thing against No. 20 South Carolina -- but a two-RBI double in the bottom of the seventh was enough to complete a four-run rally for a 6-5 walkoff win.
Matthews bombed a 3-2 pitch off the wall in left-center field to defeat 11th-seeded South Carolina and send sixth-seeded Florida to the next round of the SEC Tournament in College Station, Texas.
UF will face third-seeded LSU (40-15, 14-10 SEC) on Thursday, with the game expected to begin at 4 p.m.
The Gators (41-15, 12-12 SEC) trailed by as much as four during the game and entered the bottom of the seventh down 5-2. Designated player Kendyl Lindaman drew a walk to start the rally, and she moved to second on a ground out from outfielder Jaimie Hoover. Catcher Jordan Roberts then scored Lindaman on a single to right-center field to make it 5-3.
Freshman Amanda Beane came in to pinch-run for Roberts. Second baseman Hannah Adams struck a double to move two runners into scoring position for shortstop Sophia Reynoso. Reynoso lined the 10th pitch of her at-bat at first baseman Madison Owens, who couldn’t control it. Beane scored on the play, and Adams moved to third.
Matthews then batted a 3-2 pitch to left center that allowed Adams and Reynoso to score the tying and winning runs.
Coach Tim Walton opted to start freshman Elizabeth Hightower instead of senior Kelly Barnhill against South Carolina (36-17, 9-14 SEC).
The move paid off at first, as Hightower struck out three of the first four batters she faced, but then severe weather rolled in, stopping the game. The delay dragged on for nearly five hours before the teams could resume play.
After the delay, Hightower simply wasn’t as sharp, as seen when she gave up a solo home run to the first batter she faced, first baseman Cayla Drotar.
Hightower hit catcher Jordan Fabian with a pitch to lead off the third inning, then second baseman Mackenzie Boesel smacked a 1-2 pitch that Hightower left over the plate over the center-field fence for a 3-0 lead.
The Gamecocks tacked on another run later in the inning when left fielder Kennedy Clark punished another misplaced pitch from Hightower to increase the lead to four.
Sophomore Natalie Lugo replaced Hightower after the third inning and allowed one run and four hits in 3.1 innings. Junior Katie Chronister relieved Lugo in the top of the seventh and received the win, her first of the season.
Florida reduced the lead to two with two runs in the bottom of the sixth and had a chance to score more with the bases loaded and two outs, but couldn’t convert. Despite the seventh-inning rally, the Gators batted just 3 for 15 (.200) with runners in scoring position.
South Carolina scored an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning to set up the 5-2 comeback.
With the win, UF has another opportunity to boost its RPI into the top eight to host a super regional. The Gators currently sit in 10th in RPI, and LSU is in ninth.
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