Florida (16-0) and Central Florida(10-6) gave the sold-out UCF Softball Complex stadium a game to remember Sunday night.
For three hours, the Gators flirted with danger but managed to come out victorious over the Knights 12-11. This matchup was the highest-scoring game in the rivalry's history and marked the most runs UCF has ever scored against Florida.
The Knights had beaten all their opponents in the tournament. However, the host team failed to continue the streak against the Gators.
In her tournament debut, freshman Lexi Delbrey struggled to deliver in the first inning, leading off with more walks than strikes. The Knights took advantage and scored two runs.
Starting in the shortstop position, freshman Reagan Walsh worked with second base Hannah Adams and first base Skylar Wallace to pull out a double play and close out a weak start.
The Gators did not let this faze them moving forward. Their offense dramatically improved in the second inning.
Leading the team was freshman Kendra Falby, who scored a three-run homer just after swinging a strike. 2021 All-American Charla Echols was not far behind, scoring a two-run homer and closing the top of the second inning 7-2.
UCF didn't hesitate to respond, loading the bases which resulted in head coach Tim Walton replacing Delbrey with junior Rylee Trlicek. She struggled to find the strike zone but managed to not let the loaded bases intimidate her.
Knowing they were going up against one of the best defensive teams in the country, the Knights upped their defensive and offensive strategies. They added pressure on the Gators in the bottom of the third inning, tying the game at seven.
UCF was patient, letting UF make mistakes in its pitching; Florida totaled 16 walks by the bottom of the fourth inning. After Trlicek let the Knights have three runs and gain a 10-8 lead, Florida switched pitchers for the second time to senior Marissa Mesolmore.
Florida’s well-known pitching failed to command, making mistakes that are usually not seen by the top-5 team. Both UF and UCF used four pitchers in the game, and most struggled at times to find the plate.
The Gators’ play dramatically improved when senior Natalie Lugo entered the circle. She found the plate in the bottom of the sixth, relying on one of the nation’s best defenses to close the inning.
However, the Knights were not far behind with improving their pitching. Freshman pitcher Kaitlyn Felton, alongside her defense, got three players out in a row, the first time that happened all game.
The Gators were quick to respond in this game of chess. Walton walked to the circle to talk to his team, specifically to Lugo. With one player at second and two outs, the pressure was all on her. Regardless of the size of the moment, she managed to hold on and secure UF’s 16th in a row.
Florida will make its way back to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium to go up against Southern Mississippi. First pitch will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Contact Vanessa Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @_vanessa_sanch.