It felt like the same song, second verse for Florida shortshop Kinsey Goelz in the second inning when she took the 1-1 pitch from Mississippi State ace Annie Willis and blasted it to left field. Two nights before, she hit her first career home run to the same side against Willis.
Her dinger put UF ahead 2-0 and opened the floodgates as it knocked off MSU 8-0 Sunday afternoon at Nusz Park in Starkville, Mississippi, to complete the sweep.
The Gators’ pitching starred in the first two games as it shut out the Bulldogs — and Sunday's, too. Coach Tim Walton sent out right-hander Elizabeth Hightower even though she started two days ago.
Fatigue wasn’t an issue for the junior, however, as she delivered another top-notch start. Hightower hurled five innings and acquiesced just two hits. She heaved her third complete-game shutout and witnessed her ERA fall to 0.71, good for fifth in the SEC.
Hightower ran into some trouble in the third with runners on first and second with no outs. But she quelled the Bulldogs barking, instead making them howl in pain as they left two on base.
Offensively, UF followed a similar path to Saturday’s win as the offense waited to heat up. The Gators only racked up four hits before the fourth inning against Willis, who drew the nod for the second time this series. Walton shifted the lineup for the finale and moved catcher Julia Cottrill to the sixth spot, trading places with right fielder Avery Goelz.
In the fourth, they loaded the bases for third baseman Charla Echols. Willis cautiously pitched to Echols, UF’s leader in RBIs, and walked her to put Florida ahead 3-0. Sophomore Aspen Wesley entered and proceeded to hand Goelz a free pass. Two designated player Jordan Matthews and Cottrill singles scored a pair of runs and made the game 8-0.
The giant lead positioned UF to overpower Mississippi State by run rule. NCAA softball rules state a game ends if one team is up by eight runs after five innings. With the possibility of an earlier end, Hightower imprisoned MSU and put out six straight Bulldogs as she granted the Gators the win.
Hightower extended her scoreless streak to 19.1 innings Sunday, which breaks her previous mark of 13.1 innings from earlier this season.
UF shut out an opponent for the 11th time this season and completed its first SEC road series shutout since LSU in 2009. It outscored MSU 19-0.
Contact Noah Ram at email@example.com and follow him at @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.