The weekend can wash away the week’s stress.
After dropping their midweek matchup, the No. 5 Gators (21-3, 5-1 SEC) will welcome No. 13 LSU (18-8, 6-3 SEC) this weekend for a three-game series.
The Gators’ ironclad pitching staff cracked versus the Knights. Senior Natalie Lugo failed to make it past the third inning after allowing four runs after entering the game with a 1.40 ERA. More surprising, however, was junior Elizabeth Hightower’s performance.
Coach Tim Walton brought Hightower in the sixth inning to earn the save. She entered with a 10-0 mark and three saves to her record. But instead, Central Florida exploded in the bottom of the seventh, and with a runner at third and one out, Knights catcher Karissa Ornelas clinched the game with a two-run blast.
LSU could provide UF’s pitching an opportunity to reclaim its success. The Tigers rank near the bottom of SEC teams in multiple offensive stats. They register last in batting average (.268), 11th in hits and 10th in RBIs within the SEC. In six conference games, they averaged 4.5 runs a game.
However, LSU triumphed in four of those six games because of stellar pitching. Florida lists third in the conference in ERA (1.31), but the Tigers maintain a 2.08 ERA. Against Texas A&M last weekend, LSU only allowed four total runs. But when UF battled Mississippi State the same time, it shut the Bulldogs out.
“You know, they can throw a lot of different arms,” Walton said. “They are going to throw inside-outside, high-low.”
LSU matches up against a hot Florida offense. The Gators scored 24 runs over their last three games. Versus the Knights, five players drove in runs. Catcher Julia Cottrill led the way with two RBIs, both occurring on a third-inning double.
The Tigers already underwent a gauntlet to start the season. They participated in 13 games against ranked opponents, but the most impressive wins came March 6 and 7 against then-No. 7 Texas.
The all-time series remains nearly split, with LSU holding a slight 35-32 advantage, including 13-13 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Since Walton took over, Florida leads 25-14.
“It’s a tradition-rich program,” Walton said. “They’re athletic, they’re quick. This is by far our toughest week of preparation.”
First pitch flies Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. Friday and Sunday’s games stream on SEC Network +, while Saturday’s airs on ESPN. This will be UF’s first game with the new COVID-19 guidelines that increased attendance from 500 to 850 at Seashole Stadium.
Contact Noah Ram at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @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.