Florida softball coach Tim Walton picked up wins number 799 and 800 as UF boss Saturday afternoon. The Gators earned a walk-off victory over Georgia Southern and a win against Charlotte powered by its first-inning offense.
On an afternoon without offensive mojo, junior Charla Echols and her .600 batting average were a welcome sight at the dish for the Gators.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Echols confidently strolled into a pressured situation, dug into the box and slapped a base hit past the second baseman’s glove.
Her hit brought two home for Florida and walked off the game for UF as it escaped with a 2-1 victory.
Both teams struggled offensively, and Georgia Southern held the Gators hitless through the first two innings.
Florida had a great opportunity to break the deadlock in the third inning after sophomore Cheyenne Lindsey poked one into left-center and then stole second.
A passed ball advanced Lindsey and senior Kendyl Lindaman, who singled, to second and third. But two pop ups from senior Hannah Adams and Echols and an inning-ending strikeout sophomore Baylee Goddard left two runners in scoring position.
The Gators registered just three hits in the first game Saturday, a season low that Walton credited to GSU pitcher Kyleigh Richardson.
“I don’t think we made consecutive good contacts on the ball in the first game, and I credit that to Richardson,” Walton said. “She did a good job mixing up her pitches and hitting her spots.”
Georgia Southern found itself in a similar position two innings later off a looping leadoff double into left-center from sophomore Aaliyah Garcia.
A right-sided ground ball advanced Garcia to third, and she scored on the next at bat on an E6. GSU took a 1-0 lead and put Florida’s 22-game winning streak against unranked opposition in serious jeopardy.
After going down quietly in the fifth, the Gators looked to manufacture some offense in the sixth. Echols advanced to second on a bunt from freshman Emily Wilkie, but Julia Cottrill popped out to first and Jordyn Matthews waved at a pitch on the outside corner to retire the side.
Richardson had pitched a near perfect game through six innings and allowed just two hits and walks. However, cracks started to show in the sophomore’s armor.
She walked three batters in the seventh and set the stage for Echols, who knocked in the game winner for UF.
After leaving it late against Georgia Southern, Florida scored all five runs in the first inning against Charlotte on the way to a 5-2 victory and a 6-0 start to the season.
Hannah Adams took a fastball off her left arm before Lindaman’s blast got over the left-center wall in a hurry.
The Gators knocked another one out of the park soon after as freshman Emily Wilkie teed up her first career home run to left field. Echols drew a walk and Avery Goelz reached base after a drop from the first baseman. Wilkie then drove them in with a line drive shot that snuck over the wall. Florida took 5-0 after a first inning explosion.
Charlotte pulled a run back in the fourth as senior Spencer Gray legged out a double to right center and scored junior Imani Rochelle, bringing the score to 5-1. Pitcher Elizabeth Hightower induced a pop up and stopped the bleeding at one run.
The 49ers mounted an impressive two-out rally an inning later which brought the tying run to the plate. A walk followed back-to-back Charlotte singles and prompted Walton to withdraw Hightower from the game.
Senior Natalie Lugo, Friday’s starter, walked a run home on her first at bad before a liner to third ended the inning.
Neither team was able to generate much offense in their final trips to the plate, and UF managed a 5-2 victory.
Florida will play two more games tomorrow, starting against Charlotte at 12 p.m. before playing Georgia Southern at 3 p.m
Contact Declan Walsh at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @declanaw