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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Gators play first SEC road game, knock off Mississippi State

It became Florida’s first SEC game since a loss to Kentucky Sunday

The Gators got off to a rollicking start offensively. Two singles and a walk awarded the bases loaded with no outs. Photo from UF-FSU game March 3.
The Gators got off to a rollicking start offensively. Two singles and a walk awarded the bases loaded with no outs. Photo from UF-FSU game March 3.

Florida shortstop Kinsey Goelz descended on home plate in the fourth inning in only her third start of the season. On a 2-2 pitch with two outs, Goelz bombed the ball into the Starkville night sky and over the left field wall to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.

The lead remained as UF (19-2) prevailed over Mississippi State (13-9) 1-0 Friday evening at Nusz Park in Starkville, Mississippi.

After sifting through starting pitchers in Wednesday’s win over North Dakota, coach Tim Walton stuck with his tried-and-true starter: right-hander Elizabeth Hightower. She bounced back from her unusual subpar start when she allowed two runs in five innings.

Only one Bulldog runner reached bases in the first three innings as she fanned four. In the top of each inning, UF’s offense baited Hightower into thinking it would provide support. Instead, it only arranged runners left on base.

The Gators got off to a rollicking start offensively. Two singles and a walk awarded the bases loaded with no outs. But after two throw-outs at home, freshman Emily Wilkie flamed out swinging.

MSU pitcher Annie Willis, who entered with a stellar 2.17 ERA, struck out the side in the second. The top of UF’s lineup put runners on second and third with one out before the rally died after a strikeout and flyout.

Goelz’s two out home run marked UF’s lone hit of the fourth. She only started one game prior to this week, but after Tuesday’s exhibition against Team USA, in which Goelz started, Walton said he was impressed with her spirit and energy.

She received the start for Wednesday’s win but didn’t grab a hit. Friday’s bomb came on her return to Starkville. The redshirt junior spent two years at MSU before she transferred to UF in 2019.

The Bulldogs laid sprinters on first and third in the bottom of the frame, but Hightower traversed herself and made it through the inning unscathed.

In the next three periods, Florida failed to deliver Hightower any favors as UF nabbed just two hits, both singles. Hightower didn’t need the aid though and limited MSU to two one-baggers.

Walton retained the junior for the seventh. UF’s win seemed in doubt with Mississippi State sophomore Paige Cook on second with one out. However, Hightower stuck the finishing touches on the win. She bagged her second shutout, with the first dating back to March 5 in a 5-0 dub over FSU.

No. 5 Florida looks to guarantee a series win Saturday versus the Bulldogs. First pitch from the Magnolia State flies at 3 p.m. on SEC Network +.

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Contact Noah Ram at nram@alligator.org and follow him at nram@alligator.org


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Noah Ram

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.


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