There’s a superstition that rain on a wedding day means good luck, and the Gators softball team hopes a rainy season opener carries the same prosperity.
After waiting nearly a year to return to the diamond, UF’s home opener against USF in Tampa was delayed for three hours due to inclement weather. But when it finally started, the Gators didn’t miss a beat.
They took game one of the doubleheader 6-3 and then rampaged the Bulls in game two — a 15-0 demolition to start the 2021 campaign 2-0.
Florida drew first blood in the opening game. With the bases loaded and one out, senior Jordan Matthews came to the plate and ripped one to right-center field, scoring senior Hannah Adams and junior Charla Echols. An RBI single from sophomore Baylee Goddard extended the Gators’ lead to three.
UF then sent out Natalie Lugo to the circle. The senior is considered the ace of the staff but struggled. Lugo got out of a jam in the bottom of the first as USF left two runners stranded but wasn’t so fortunate in the second. South Florida’s Kyndall Williams doubled and drove in Brooke Hartman, which put the Bulls on the board.
In the third, Lugo got the first out, but then hit a player. Hartman followed the bean-ball with a two-run shot and tied the game at three.
Lugo came out to start the fourth but was eventually relieved in favor of Katie Chronister. The lefty was just what the Gators needed, putting in 2.1 innings of hitless work.
The game remained tied in the seventh as after a blistering start, UF’s bats froze. The team only got four hits from the second to sixth inning. The orange and blue had not lost to South Florida since 2012, but it began to seem possible.
That’s when Nichols re-emerged. The preseason All-SEC pick lined one to center, off the glove of AnaMarie Bruni. Two runs came home, and Echols had the same fate after a single from sophomore Julia Cottrill. USF went three up, three down in the bottom of the frame, and Florida picked up the W.
Echols continued her dominance into the second game. Her two-run double put Florida ahead 2-0, and a wild pitch later made it 3-0. The Gators learned their lesson from game one, however, and pounded on the Bulls. They added four runs in the second, three in the third and fourth and two in the fifth. That made it 15-0, and the game was mercy-ruled following the fifth.
It was a larger win than any Florida had in 2020.
On the mound, the Bulls were limited to just one hit due to outstanding pitching from Elizabeth Hightower and Rylee Trlieck.
Echols once again shined, going 3-3. She finished the two games 6-6 with six ribbies, a double, a triple and a homer.
The Gators will run with the Bulls one final time Sunday. First pitch will be at 1 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN+.
Follow Noah on Twitter @Noah_ram1 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Noah is a third year journalism-sports and media student from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He has been with The Alligator since Spring 2019 and has covered men’s and women’s tennis, gymnastics and volleyball. When he isn’t on his beat, Noah is usually sadden over his beloved South Florida sports teams, such as the Heat and Dolphins.