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Sunday, February 05, 2023

Julia Cottrill lost a tooth but grabbed the SEC regular-season crown

For the second time this SEC Championship weekend, the Gators hit a walk-off home run to defeat the Aggies. This time, Cottrill gave up a tooth in her efforts.

Florida catcher Julia Cottrill prepares to swing against Louisville on February 27.
Florida catcher Julia Cottrill prepares to swing against Louisville on February 27.

The Gators jumped into a massive dogpile. Tim Walton received an icy Gatorade bath.  The SEC championship banner was raised. 

Somewhere by home plate, Julia Cottrill’s tooth laid on the ground.

The Florida Gators (40-8, 19-5) completed their dramatic sweep of the Texas A&M Aggies (31-20, 8-16) with a 6-5 walk-off victory Sunday to be crowned regular season Co-SEC Champions.

The Gators clinched a share of their fifth regular-season conference title since 2015 with Arkansas.

But before the evening’s celebrations, things looked dim for the Gators in their noon battle with the Aggies.

"This is not a ball club that's just happy we competed with them,” Aggies head coach Jo Evans said after Charla Echols’ Friday walk-off. “That's not how we feel right now. We've got a lot of upset, frustrated, mad, disappointed ballplayers and staff." 

The Aggies exemplified their desire to show they can defeat the best of the best against the No.4 Gators.

Left fielder Bre Warren quickly batted in star Haley Lee and Morgan Smith to give the Aggies a 2-0 lead in the opening inning. A hit-by-pitch from Florida pitcher Natalie Lugo soon left the Gators down by three runs in the first inning.

The Gators created a fantastic opportunity to inch back in the bottom of the fourth inning.

As Evans met with freshman hurler Grace Uribe, almost every Gator fan in sight did the Gator chomp as Katie Seashore Pressly Stadium came alive. 

After she walked Lindaman and Cottrill, Uribe resumed play and struck right fielder Bailey Goddard with a pitch. 

The stage was set with bases loaded.

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Dual-threat Makinzy Herzog, whom the Gators defeated Friday, subbed into the circle against Jaimie Hoover and immediately threw three balls.

Hoover struck out, however, as she took a heavy swing on a pitch which toed the line between ball and strike.

Hoover only had to wait for her next at-bat for redemption. Down two runs, with bases loaded once again, Hoover didn’t wait to swing and powered a strong, low fly ball into center field.

“Jaimie, that was a huge hit for her. For her confidence,” Echols said after the game.

Excitement erupted as Echols scored off Hoover’s hit, and Cottrill slid into home plate to follow her. The umpire called her safe.

Cottrill opened her eyes, and the first thing she saw was teammate Echols’ facemask. 

“Help me find my tooth,” Cottrill attempted to tell Echols in all the excitement.

“I didn’t know I knocked her tooth out until a few innings later. But it’s worth it for the win,” Echols laughed.

Cottrill left the base path a tooth and a half lighter, and Echols said the catcher putting her body on the line at the plate epitomized the team’s mission.

“That’s a really good representation of how hard we work and how much we love each other.” 

After the four-run fifth inning, A&M shortstop Rylen Wiggins quieted the Gators’ comeback with a solo blast out of the park to make it a 5-4 game. 

The homer was the only hit Florida reliever Katie Chronister allowed in her 3.1 innings pitched.

The Gators refused to back down with the seventh inning left to play. 

Lindaman began the offensive effort with a flyout. Rather than mope, the senior encouraged sophomore Cottrill. 

“Pick me up right here,” Lindaman told Cottrill as she stood in the batter’s box.

Charla Echols went up to the plate and roped a double before Cottrill walked up to the plate.

Armed with the desire to avenge Lindaman, the sophomore blasted just her fourth home run of the season.

“To see all of my teammates that excited just feels great,” Cottrill said. “Seeing Coach Walton happy is awesome.”

Looking ahead, Tim Walton will look over the film to prepare for the SEC Tournament. And, hopefully, find the tooth of the hero of the day, Cottrill.

The Gators begin their postseason journey in Tuscaloosa, Alabama as the No.1 seed, taking the field on Wednesday, May 12. Every game of the SEC Tournament’s first and second rounds will broadcast on the SEC Network.

Contact Julianna Reichenbach at julianna0117@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @Julianna_Reich

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