Charla Echols stood at the plate with a full count in the bottom of the fourth inning. The next pitch exploded off her bat, blasting 30 feet over the right-center field wall for her third home run of the season.
Echols’ first hit in four games broke the 0-0 stalemate and gave Florida a 1-0 lead — an advantage it held the entire game. Florida defeated Florida State in its first meeting against a ranked opponent this season to improve to 14-0.
Both offenses took a siesta through the first three-and-a-half innings. Arnold ran into some trouble in the first after UF put runners on first and second with one out. But catcher Julia Cottrill grounded into a double play. In the next two innings, Arnold sliced and diced her way through the Gators lineup with four strikeouts.
UF responded on the other side through junior Elizabeth Hightower. The righty, who entered with a 0.83 ERA, nagged the Gators’ start and continued her superb season. She shut down Seminole bats to the tune of a no-hitter in the first five innings. FSU registered two base runners during that stretch, both walks.
Echols came into Friday’s game on a slump without a hit since Feb. 25, but her fourth inning bomb terminated the drought.
“I was just looking for something down the pipe,” Echols said. “I knew it was 3-2, so I was going to get something to hit. I was looking for anything specifically, just a good pitch.”
Any great pitching staff benefits from insurance courtesy of its offense, and UF’s bats provided Hightower just that in the next two innings.
In the fifth, UF kicked off a two-out rally. Center fielder Cheyenne Lindsey bunted to reach first and second baseman Hannah Adams walked, setting the stage for first baseman Kendyl Lindaman.
The preseason All-SEC selection delivered. She exploded a 1-2 pitch over the left-center wall, scoring Lindsey and Adams to make it 4-0.
FSU’s offense finally awoke in the sixth. The Seminoles pushed runners to second and third with two outs, but Hightower eluded any further trouble due to a left fielder Jaimie Hoover diving grab..
In the bottom of the frame, UF exploited erratic Florida State pitching. Pitcher Danielle Watson walked the bases loaded and threw two wild pitches. Lindsey obtained Florida’s first dinger of the inning and scored pinch-runner Mia Buffano. Seminole center fielder Dani Morgan threw out Hoover at home, keeping it 5-0.
Hightower, the Monticello, Florida native, consummated her local team in the seventh in front of her family. After walking Cassidy Davis with two outs, Kiersten Landers grounded out and handedHightower the complete game shutout.
Monticello and Tallahassee are separated by only 25 miles, and Hightower’s parents root for the garnet and gold.
“Being from that area, it was a huge game for me,” Hightower, who was emotional after the win, said. “The defense took some pressure off me, which made it really fun and easy.”
The win came 359 days after UF’s last triumph over FSU. No. 7 Florida knocked off No. 12 FSU 5-2 in what became the Gators’ last game of the 2020 season. Lindaman, who homered in that win, said emotions were high heading into the meetup.
“It was very special,” Lindaman said. “Obviously, we came out on top last season and this season, but rivalries are always fun. Everyone was super excited, and we are just as excited to go to their place tomorrow.”
Coach Tim Walton said the squad must contend with solid FSU pitching and base running. The Seminoles stole one base Friday and tried to swipe another.
First pitch from Tallahassee will hurl at 6 p.m. and will stream on ACC Network Plus.
Contact Noah Ram at email@example.com and follow him @Noah_ram1
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.