Prior to this past weekend, Florida’s softball team acted like a college student just before their first exam.
It completed some burdensome assignments, such as series against Kentucky, LSU and Georgia (all ranked at the time) but mainly coasted through SEC play
But the big exam came this weekend at then-No.3 Alabama, led by junior phenomenon Montana Fouts.
So, what happened? The Gators exceled and won two of three against the Tide. The series win solidified Florida’s spot in second in the SEC and moved it up to No. 3 in the rankings. Alabama fell to No. 5, Florida’s old spot.
UF’s practice test on Wednesday fared about as badly as one could imagine. UCF demolished the Gators 7-0 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, their first home shutout in two years.
After the game, coach Tim Walton expressed some harsh words for the team.
“If they are looking forward to anything, it’s Alabama kicking their butts if they played like they did tonight.”
Those strong words ignited a spark in the team especially its ace, junior Elizabeth Hightower. The righty’s ERA had dropped steadily since her last complete shutout – March 26 against LSU – and now she faced the daunting task of going opposite Fouts, the 2019 SEC Freshman of the Year.
Hightower dispatched an absolute gem and relinquished three hits in a complete game shutout. On offense, Florida dug for runs for six innings against Fouts, who went the distance as well. But in the second inning, shortstop Sarah Longley hit a chopper up the middle and scored catcher Julia Cottrill and first baseman Kendyl Lindaman, UF’s only runs of the night.
On Saturday, the Gators drew senior Krystal Goodman, and even though she entered with a lower ERA than Fouts, Florida prospered much better opposing her. Pinch runner Kali Reis came home on a wild pitch in the fifth to put UF ahead, and Lindaman’s grand slam in the sixth made it 8-2 and effectively ended it.
Fouts acquiesced two runs on Sunday as well, but three fielding errors in the third and fourth innings contributed to three unearned Alabama runs and that remained the difference. The Tide emerged victorious 4-2.
Despite Sunday’s downfall, the series still marked a major success for the Gators. Its pitching rebounded after the UCF loss, especially lefty Katie Chronister, who was pulled Wednesday without registering an out, but tossed three scoreless innings on Saturday.
Offensively, Florida failed to accomplish much adjacent Fouts, but exploded on Saturday when not battling the stud right-hander. Its offense produced just enough to get by, better than its other two SEC losses (March 14 against Kentucky, 4-2, and April 3 at Georgia, 4-2).
Looking forward, while the series win strengthened Florida’s lead on Alabama, it failed to catch No. 8 Arkansas. The Razorbacks own just two SEC losses and finished a sweep this past weekend over No. 21 Georgia. They’ve yet to battle No. 17 LSU. That will occur May 1-3 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Florida, meanwhile, swept the Tigers March 26-28 and endure a much easier set of opponents the rest of the campaign. Two of UF’s final three SEC adversaries hold conference records below .500 – South Carolina (2-13) and Texas A&M (6-9). The Gators’ biggest remaining test is Missouri (10-5), which ranks fourth in the conference standings.
In between that SEC play, UF plays two non-conference teams – at FCGU on April 21 and Florida A&M on April 28. Its final SEC game is scheduled for May 9 facing Texas A&M.
Contact Noah Ram at email@example.com 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.