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Monday, February 06, 2023

Gators move on to Super Regional behind Hightower’s no-hitter

Elizabeth Hightower threw her first career no-hitter and the entire Florida lineup got on base after an early defensive struggle from both teams

<p>Julia Cottrill swings Friday against USF. Cottrill helped lead the Gators to an 8-0 win over the Bulls Sunday.</p>

Julia Cottrill swings Friday against USF. Cottrill helped lead the Gators to an 8-0 win over the Bulls Sunday.

Florida softball needs two more wins to reach the Women’s College World Series.

Gators ace Elizabeth Hightower tossed a no-hitter Sunday to power the Gators (45-9) over South Florida (31-20) and Georgina Corrick 8-0 to send UF to the NCAA Super Regional.

The game began like Friday’s 1-0 walk-off victory over the Bulls, as Corrick and Hightower battled for the second time this weekend, but the encore shifted to an all-around offensive performance for Florida. Every Gators hitter in the lineup reached base for the second game in a row.  

Charla Echols terminated the progression toward a two-team no-hitter in the fourth inning when she brushed a line drive off Corrick’s foot. Fifth-year senior Kendyl Lindaman synced up with her teammate at the right time and hit a single to advance Echols to second.

Catcher Julia Cottrill made her return from illness after missing the SEC Tournament last weekend. Walton gave Cottrill the option of either bunting or hitting with the game tied 0-0 in the fourth inning. 

While a bunt could easily advance Echols, Cottrill wanted to bring the best for her team and told her coach she wanted to hit.

Moments after their discussion, Cottrill knocked Corrick’s pitch into the left-field wall and Echols sprinted home.

“Julia is one of those big-game players,” Walton said. “I would like to have her in that championship game because she has historically done well in those kind of moments.”

After her RBI in the fourth, Cottrill proved she was the offensive MVP and hit her fifth home run of the season in the sixth inning.

USF’s loss to Florida in the first round meant Corrick had to pitch 26 innings this weekend after the Bulls took on South Alabama and Baylor in the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament.

Nature, and the Gators bats, eventually found their balance. USF and Team USA coach Ken Eriksen noticed his team started to fatigue in the fourth inning, while the Gators went on the hunt.

Hightower put on her own pitch performance when she struck out a career-high 10 batters to finish off thirteen innings of no-hits allowed over the weekend.

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Second baseman Hannah Adams made a play Walton described as “one of the most special plays” he had ever seen to save Hightower’s no-hitter in the seventh. She fielded a ground ball she could have thrown to second for an easy out. Instead, she kept her teammate’s no-hitter alive by throwing the runner out at first.

Corrick came into the game boasting the fourth-lowest ERA in the nation among pitchers with more than two appearances at .91. During the second inning, amidst three straight instances of leaving the Gators looking or swinging, Corrick eclipsed all of Division 1 NCAA Softball in strikeouts, ending the season with 333.

In the seventh inning, the graduating USF pitcher finally left the field after an Emily Wilkie single. In a show of sportsmanship, the full-capacity Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium crowd rose to their feet in applause.

“What you saw today was nothing but heart, grit, determination, and loyalty to a team,” Eriksen said.

After Corrick departed, the game became a field day for Florida against a revolving door of challengers.

Senior Jaimie Hoover hit a sacrifice fly RBI with bases loaded to open up the floodgates. 

Sophomore shortstop Sarah Longley crushed the ball out of the park for a grand slam, her first collegiate home run after a two-year wait. 

Cheyenne Lindsey followed up with another home run of her own to seal the eight-run lead.

With the regional in the rearview mirror now, Walton and his team anticipate the challenge another round of the postseason brings.

“We're excited to play another week and I think our athletes are doing a really good job of embracing the preparation it takes for them to be good hitters,” Walton said.

Florida will now take on the Georgia Bulldogs (31-21) in the NCAA Super Regionals. Florida took the series 2-1 earlier in the year. Game times are to be announced, but the best-of-three series to reach the WCWS will play out in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium next weekend.

Contact Julianna Reichenbach at jreichenbach@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @Julianna_Reich 

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