With Florida and Mississippi State struggling to scratch runs Monday, Gators center fielder Kendra Falby stepped up to the plate and played unorthodox hero.
The star freshman led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a shot to left-center. The Bulldog outfielders tracked the ball to the fence but lost it in the lights. The ball bounced off the wall and dribbled into no man’s land.
With the MSU defense scrambling, Falby accelerated around the diamond and triumphantly slid home to the tune of a roaring Katie Seashole Pressly crowd. The Gators were on the board with an inside-the-park home run.
The lap around the bases marked the first time Florida has recorded two inside-the-parkers in a single season with SEC play just beginning.
No. 4 Florida (23-2, 2-1) was uncharacteristically held scoreless to start the night, but they more than made up for it in the waning innings of a 3-0 series-clinching win over Mississippi State (16-7, 1-2).
The Gators’ run drought Sunday afternoon nearly carried to Monday night, but late-inning heroics by Falby and redshirt junior Skylar Wallace pushed the Gators past the Bulldogs to clinch the three-game, home-opening stretch.
Wallace followed Falby’s lead to launch a bomb to center field and bring in base runner Hannah Adams, who stole second and third after a wild throw from Miss. State catcher Mia Davidson rolled to the outfield.
Adams and senior right fielder Cheyenne Lindsey recorded Florida’s other two hits.
Both teams had no trouble making contact early on, but getting on base was the issue as flyouts started to pile up.
UF senior pitcher Elizabeth Hightower controlled the game for her ninth win of the season. The right-hander tossed a complete-game shutout (7 IP, 4 H, 3 K), helping herself throughout the night with solid defensive play on ground balls rolling back to her.
Falby made a handful of impressive catches in center field to keep the Bulldogs off the board. Her teammate to the right, left fielder Katie Kistler, followed suit to make the defensive play of the game.
Bulldogs first baseman Riley Hull drew a walk, and Davidson put her in scoring position with a single to short, posing the first real Bulldog threat of the game.
With two runners on and two outs, MSU left fielder Chloe Malau’ulu singled to left to push pinch runner Phoebe Florian around third with a full head of steam.
Yet, Kistler pulled out the sniper and hurled a bullet to the plate for the waiting glove of Florida catcher Emily Wilkie. The sophomore made the tag and ended the half-inning with a bang.
UF translated its momentum from the field to the batter’s box in the bottom of the frame. The top of the order did serious damage with the home runs from Falby and Wallace. The slugging spurt capped the scoring and gifted UF the bounceback win.
Florida returns to non-conference action Wednesday at Stetson. First pitch is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Contact Caleb Wiegandt at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CalebWiegandt.