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Monday, February 06, 2023

So we meet again, Georgia Bulldogs

The Gators, coming off an Elizabeth Hightower no-hitter, duel with Georgia in the NCAA Super Regionals with a trip to Oklahoma City on the line

<p>Florida&#x27;s Elizabeth Hightower pitches against Louisville on February 27, 2021. The senior shutout USF Sunday afternoon.</p><p></p>

Florida's Elizabeth Hightower pitches against Louisville on February 27, 2021. The senior shutout USF Sunday afternoon.

The Bulldogs and the Gators meet again, this time in the Super Regionals. 

The winner punches their ticket to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. The loser’s season ends early.

The four-seeded Florida Gators (45-9) swept up the competition last weekend. Elizabeth Hightower will stride to the mound confidently after she didn’t allow a hit against South Florida in 13 innings pitched between Friday and Sunday. 

The Gator offense coalesced for 28 hits across the three Regional contests.

Julia Cottrill, whom head coach Tim Walton named MVP of Sunday’s bid-clinching game, produced a clutch RBI and home run duo to defeat USF 8-0 on Sunday. She will head the catcher position, with an updated two crowns in her smile.

UGA (31-21) blew out Western Kentucky and proceeded to defeat the thirteen-seeded Duke Blue Devils 1-0 and 10-9 to prevail in the Athens Regional. The Bulldogs are not nationally seeded but won hosting privileges because Duke banned fans from the stadium amidst the pandemic.

Now they meet again, not only for rival bragging rights but with a Super Regional crown on the line. 

Walton made some lineup changes Saturday against South Alabama to reflect something he felt good about in the SEC Tournament. He slotted Emily Wilkie second, where she had replaced the ill Cottrill, All-SEC Second team member Kendyl Lindaman batted fourth with Cottrill right behind her.  Walton said lineups were matchup-dependent and subject to change, but the results of the current order spoke for themselves. 

“I kinda liked the way that felt,” Walton explained after Saturday’s win. “If we get Emily on base, we've got two or three more opportunities to score one more run.”

Third baseman Charla Echols continues to anchor the Gator offense. She’s hitting .390 for the season and only struck out for the third time all year on Saturday.

All-SEC First Team member Hannah Adams, who hit the walk-off to defeat USF 1-0 Friday, continues to lead off for the Gators. She highlighted the impact the now full-capacity crowd has on the team.

“The crowd’s energy is a big gamechanger,” first baseman Hannah Adams said. “Gator Nation makes a big difference whenever they’re loud and cheering and everyone’s here.”

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Georgia’s broken Florida’s hearts at Katie Seashore Pressly before. In 2016, as Florida clung to a one-run lead, Georgia hit a two-run home run to crush the Gators’ chances of a return to the WCWS and three-peat as national champions.

The walk-off still holds a sour spot in Aubree Munro’s, former Florida starting catcher and soon-to-be Tokyo Olympian, heart.

Georgia defeated Florida 4-2 earlier this season on April 3. Florida achieved revenge the next day in monumental fashion with a 17-1 romp before seniors Katie Chronister and Natalie Lugo pitched lights-out in the final game to win the season series.

Georgia’s Mary Wilson Avant, who owns a 2.90 ERA, pitched twice in the Florida series. Avant  allowed only two against the Blue Devils in nine innings. 

The Bulldogs’ second hitter Sydney Kuma joined Cottrill on the All-SEC newcomer team. Kuma leads the team with 37 RBIs and 51 hits and comes in off a huge final regional performance with three RBIs.

It’s been 726 days since the Gators last played in the Women’s College World Series. Two (or three) more days, and the Gators could clinch their ticket to Oklahoma City for the fourth straight year.

The NCAA Super Regionals dogfight begins Friday at 5 p.m. and will broadcast on ESPNU. Game 2 and Game 3, if necessary, will play at noon and will air live on ESPN2. 

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

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