Defense wins championships. So do walk-off hits, but that has become a routine finish for the Florida softball team (43-9).
Florida hit yet another walk-off to clinch a 1-0 victory over USF.
The game really began in the seventh inning with the score tied 0-0. It was wide-open for the Gators or Bulls (29-17) to take home the first game of the NCAA Gainesville Regional.
Junior Elizabeth Hightower anchored the Gator’s defense before she passed the baton to several of her teammates. Hightower nearly threw her first career seven-inning no-hitter, but she was subbed out after her second walk of the game. In a strategic move, Florida head coach Tim Walton brought in lefty Katie Chronister to face the two lefties up next in the USF lineup.
“I don’t care how many innings I pitch, I want the team to win,” Hightower said.
The stage was set for South Florida with runners on first and second base in the top of the seventh inning.
Bethaney Keen hit a single towards Cheyenne Lindsey in center field. AnaMarie Bruni, who Walton called the fastest player on the field, sprinted towards home.
Lindsey fired a laser from shallow center field to home plate, where Julia Cottrill waited.
Cottrill, returning from illness, slid in at lightning speed for the catch and tagged Bruno with the briefest of touches.
“The throw was delivered quickly,” Walton said. “I thought Julia was impressive, just the way she was able to sink herself down to the plate and be able to get enough body for the umpire to make that call.”
The crowd rose to their feet as the umpire signaled the runner out.
In a great show of athleticism and focus, Cottrill spun around and threw Williams out at third to complete a double play and the top of the seventh.
“It was really cool when Cheyenne made that throw in the seventh, everyone got on their feet, and we were really able to feed off that energy in the bottom of the seventh,” Hightower said.
Walton suggested the Gators were a little nervous at the start of the game because they had not experienced the pleasure of the crowd cheering for the Gators, rather than against them, in so long.
“The energy was fantastic,” Walton concluded.
Walton said he expected the low-scoring game. South Florida’s pitcher Georgina Corrick boasted a .97 ERA, the ninth-lowest in the NCAA, going into Friday.
Corrick’s reign stranded Florida runners on base all game. In the first six innings, Corrick and the USF defense assured early hits amounted to nothing. At the time, the Gators were 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
Florida quickly awakened their clutch offensive powers in the bottom of the seventh.
Lindsey hit a single to begin the bottom of the seventh to set up the well-nicknamed Hannah “Clutch” Adams with no outs.
Adams blasted the ball into the wall, and the rest was history. Lindsey beat the throw to the plate, and the Gators advanced.
Florida now awaits the winner of South Alabama (30-19) vs. Baylor (27-21) for their next game in the double-elimination Gainesville Regional. South Florida will play the loser of that game Saturday.
The first pitch for Florida’s second game flies Saturday at 2 p.m.
Contact Julianna Reichenbach at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @Julianna_Reich