Senior left fielder Jaimie Hoover stepped into the batter’s box calm and collected, as if it were batting practice. Instead, it was the bottom of the seventh inning in a postseason game, tied 6-6 with the game-winning run on third
Her bat never moved an inch from her shoulder while Missouri's Emma Nichols breezed three pitches by her, only one finding the strike zone.
Hoover finally saw a pitch she liked. She hammered the ball on the ground toward the Tigers’ shortstop, Jenna Laird. It caromed off the bottom of her glove and flailed to her right side. Laird scooped the ball up and lasered it to first baseman Emma Raabe as Hoover flew down the line like Road Runner to beat the throw.
Florida’s freshman catcher Emily Wilkie waltzed home to clinch the Gators’ 7-6 victory over Missouri Friday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and advanced the Gators to the SEC Championship game Saturday.
Missouri’s lineup jumped junior starting pitcher Elizabeth Hightower to start the game. Three hits in the first inning pushed across the first run of the game.
Florida attempted to respond right away. Wilkie, the lead-off batter, began the rally with a single. But junior third baseman Charla Echols grounded into a double play and demolished its chance to answer back.
Hightower struggled in her three innings of work. She fell behind in the count often and surrendered four hits, four walks and one earned run before her afternoon ended.
The Tigers failed to take advantage of her struggles. They abandoned six runners on base during Hightower’s stint.
The Gators responded and tied the game in the bottom of the second. Hoover singled to left field, and then senior designated player Jordan Matthews rocketed a ball that bounced off the left center field wall for a double to put two Florida runners in scoring position with only one out.
Sophomore right fielder Baylee Goddard lined a single in front of the Tigers left fielder Casidy Chaumont to score Hoover.
Florida departed the inning with the bases juiced due to a costly Matthews’ baserunning error.
The Gators grabbed the lead in the third inning. Senior first baseman Kendyl Lindaman launched a two-run moonshot over the left center field wall after Echols snagged a single the at-bat prior.
After Hightower coughed up her fourth walk to Missouri’s leadoff hitter, coach Tim Walton called upon senior Katie Chronister to relieve her. She retired eight straight batters to start her appearance.
The Gators extended their lead in the bottom of the fifth. Wilkie wore a pitch from the Tigers’ Laurin Krings on her elbow to get on base. Echols followed and roped an opposite-field double which allowed Wilkie to score from first. Echols advanced to third after Missouri threw home to save the run.
Krings then walked Hoover, and Walton signaled for a double steal. Echols cruised home to increase their lead to 5-1 after Moore attempted to throw Hoover out.
With two outs in the sixth, the Tigers’ Kendyll Bailey blasted a homer in left field to trim Florida’s lead to 5-2. Chronister regrouped and tallied three-straight outs.
Missouri then ignited a two-out rally with a double, a walk and an RBI single to bring the potential game-winning run to the plate. Walton then brought in senior Natalie Lugo to earn the final out.
Lugo pinned Missouri to its final strike, but Raabe rocketed a three-run home run to steal the lead, 6-5.
Florida immediately came back in the bottom half of the inning. Adams walked and Wilkie took a pitch to her knee. Echols grounded to second base and allowed Adams and pinch runner Katie Kistler to advance.
Lindaman then hit a line drive sacrifice fly to the left fielder to score Adams before Hoover scored Kistler for the game-winning run.
Florida advances to the SEC Championship game, where it will vie for its third-straight championship against either No. 7 seed Tennessee or No. 3 Alabama at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber