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Thursday, June 24, 2021

There’s no pound for the Bulldogs, Gators go home

Florida dropped consecutive Super Regional games to end the postseason, said goodbye to accomplished regular season co-SEC champion senior class

The Florida softball team huddles on February 27 in a game against Louisville. The Gators' season ended Saturday with a second straight Super Regional loss to Georgia.
The Florida softball team huddles on February 27 in a game against Louisville. The Gators' season ended Saturday with a second straight Super Regional loss to Georgia.

The Florida Gators waved goodbye to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, Georgia, and their seniors Saturday.

The regular season co-SEC Champion Gators (45-11) hadn’t dropped a series all season. On Saturday, they dropped their second Super Regional matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs (34-21) by a 6-0 margin, their second consecutive shutout loss.

“I’d much rather get beat than beat myself. And they beat us,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said.

The Florida faithful showed up. There was a lengthy line an hour before the game, culminating in 1,890 fans packing the stands. A sea of orange and blue swallowed the few Georgia fans in  the crowd.

The Gator offense attempted to strike early. Kendyl Lindaman hit her third double of the series, Florida’s fourth hit of the Super Regional weekend. 

Julia Cottrill followed up by getting hit by a rare errant pitch from Georgia star Mary Wilson Avant. The stadium came alive as Florida fans sensed a mounting rally.

Bailey Goddard, the new fifth hitter in the lineup, struck out looking on a pitch that teetered between strike and ball.

Walton threw the whole kitchen sink at the Bulldogs in terms of making adjustments. Graduating senior Jordan Matthews started in the lineup. She previously earned UF its spot in the WCWS with a walk-off home run in 2018.

Friday, the final four hitters in the order led the Bulldogs’ charge. Practically the entire lineup contributed to coach Lu-Harris Chomper’s team victory Saturday. 

While Friday’s game may have felt like Georgia’s Super Regional victory in 2016, this game was different as the Gators were never in danger of getting walked off.

The leadoffs showed out in the first inning to unleash a quick 1-0 lead. Later on, in the second inning, Jaiden Fields, sister of new Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields, smacked her second home run of the series. Jayda Kearney assured a run streak and launched a home run ball in the third inning.

Captain Katie Chronister relieved starter Elizabeth Hightower after Kearney’s bomb. The fifth-year senior struck out the last hitter in the third and orchestrated three consecutive groundouts in the fourth.

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By the time the fifth inning rolled around, a mercy rule appeared possible. Georgia seemed to take advantage of every free pass they received, while the Gators struggled to string together a series of hits. 

The Bulldogs hit their third home run of the game, a two-run shot from second baseman Sydney Kuma, to make the lead 5-0. A walk and two singles later, and the Bulldogs had opened up a 6-0 lead.

Natalie Lugo, who pitched on Friday, came in as the final pitcher in the latter sixth inning and ceased the Bulldogs’ scoring at last.

Florida managed to gather some momentum in the seventh as pinch hitter Kinsey Goelz got hit by a pitch, but again the Gators could not get the ball into play

After the game, Walton praised the team as one of the hardest working and most consistent teams he’d ever coached. At the same time, he acknowledged the offensive struggles he saw as the season progressed. He wasn’t shocked that the team got shut out to end the season.

“If you were to ask me if I thought this was gonna happen in January, February, I’d say no. If you asked me if I thought this was gonna happen in March, I'd say yes,” Walton said.

Avant struck out four Florida batters and walked one in comparison to four hits allowed. The Georgia ace threw all 14 innings this weekend and never gave the Gators room to breathe. The Bulldogs defense made several quick catches to further paralyze the Gator attack.

They begin play in the WCWS on June 3, while the Gators look towards 2022.

As senior captain Jaimie Hoover walked into the dugout after her last at-bat, she and Lindaman embraced each other with a long hug.

“It was a blessing that we were able to come out here and just have another season, and we were able to compete and play Gator ball,” Hoover said about the season.

The coach praised each senior individually. He feels proud of how the team embraced their similarities and differences and disclosed that he never had any issues with the group.

Though the 2021 season came wrought with new COVID-19 rules, Lindaman said she wouldn’t trade her fifth and final season for the world. 

“I wouldn't wanna end it with anybody else but the girls that are here and in the locker room, at our home field,” Chronister, a Gainesville native, said.

Despite the losses, Florida’s youth allows for lots of future continuity. Lugo and run-leader Hannah Adams plan to return for a fifth year courtesy of the NCAA COVID-19 eligibility. The rest of the Gator starting lineup, including team batting average leader Charla Echols, will return in 2022.

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

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