Center fielder Cheyenne Lindsey bulleted a stand-up double to left field and jolted Florida out of its rut with the first Gator hit in the bottom of the fourth.
Offensive success eluded the Gators until the seventh inning. Defensive miscues only emphasized Kentucky’s clean, aggressive play.
Florida clinched the series with wins Friday and Saturday but dropped its last game 2-4 in extra innings against the Wildcats. Kentucky bookended the nine-inning game with a pair of two-run frames.
In the bottom of the seventh, second baseman Hannah Adams stepped into the box with the weight of a 2-point deficit looming overhead. Accustomed to high-pressure situations, Adams slammed a home run over left center and put the Gators on the board.
Emily Wilkie left behind a rally-cap-filled dugout and grounded her cleats in the clay for the first time with bases loaded and two outs. A Miranda Stoddard wild pitch granted Katie Kistler the chance to knot up the score.
A Rylea Smith diving catch in left center halted the Gators at two runs and sent the game into extra innings. Left-handed pitcher Katie Chronister relieved senior Natalie Lugo after a scoreless eighth and head coach Tim Walton opted for a five-person infield.
A Smith single and a shortstop Sarah Longley error allowed the Wildcats to pull ahead by two with one out. Chronister retired Lauren Johnson to close out the top of the frame.
Florida couldn’t answer.
“I thought the grit was there,” Walton said. “I thought the determination was there. Unfortunately, we just didn’t play very good softball today.”
Three errors made it to Florida’s books but, to Walton, a cocktail of defensive bloopers, pitching mistakes and baserunning decisions made the difference.
“You name it, we did it,” Walton said. “We’re gonna have to turn the dial up with our own personal confidence and intensity. It’s gonna come down to us.”
Junior right-hander Elizabeth Hightower started in the circle for the Gators. She whipped 93 pitches through five innings, just 20 below her full game total Friday. Lugo relieved Hightower at the top of the sixth.
UF finished with a .167 batting average against Kentucky’s Stoddard and Autumn Humes. The Gators managed just two hits against Humes through 7.1 innings and three against Stoddard. They put 29 balls in play during 30 at-bats but went three up, three down in five innings.
“Every team is gonna give you their best, no matter who they are,” first baseman Kendyl Lindaman said. “There are no easy games, especially in the SEC.”
With its first conference series under its belt, No. 6 Florida’s record improves to 17-2.
The Gators welcome USA Softball to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in an exhibition game Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Contact Rachel Slay at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @racheljslay