Traffic from Orlando to Gainesville caused a 47-minute delay on the front end of Florida’s midweek matchup with Central Florida. UF pitcher Elizabeth Hightower thought that would be her last long wait of the day.
By the second inning, however, the senior right-hander was happily proven wrong by her raking offense.
Wednesday’s second inning became one of No. 7 UF’s (28-5, 5-4) biggest frames of the season en route to a 10-3 drubbing of No. 22 UCF (29-8, 3-0). All nine Florida batters came to the plate at least once in the six-run frame that helped snap the Knights’ 18-game winning streak.
The Gators hit .400 with runners on base in a game where the Knights had no chance of challenging a seemingly insurmountable hole. Hightower picked up her ninth win of the season (5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 K) although left in the dugout for the long offensive frame.
“I would say the most important thing about the run support in that second was I just saw everyone having fun,” Hightower said. “Going into the SEC weekend [at Auburn], I felt like this game was a great confidence boost in our bats.”
Florida head coach Tim Walton said analytics drove this high-scoring lineup in its debut as his Gators looked for a better run-producing order. Computers estimated that the lineup would produce 23.9 total bases, a mark UF essentially doubled.
“We needed to do something different,” Walton said. “Personnel is the same, but just trying to figure out ways in order to continue to put pressure on people with different types of players.”
“I think we had 23.9 total bases by about the third inning.”
In Florida’s first at-bat of the game, junior shortstop Skylar Wallace was hit by a pitch and stole second. The Woodstock, Georgia, native has been uncatchable on the basepaths, an SEC-leading perfect 30 for 30 on theft attempts this season.
Two batters later, senior third baseman Charla Echols traded places with her to plate the first run of the game for the Gators. Freshman designated player Reagan Walsh followed her with a rocket to center field. UCF’s Johneisha Rowe was unable to make the diving grab, allowing Echols to cross home and make it a 2-0 UF advantage.
Hightower’s hopes for a shutout ended in the next frame. Knights senior right fielder Denali Schappacher singled up the middle, and sophomore left fielder Katie Burge blasted a triple down the right-field line to halve the deficit, 2-1.
The Gators quickly regained separation in that immense second inning.
Freshman center fielder Kendra Falby drew a leadoff walk and stole second. First baseman Avery Goelz singled and did the same. Wallace was walked to load the bases, ending UCF pitcher Grace Jewell’s night after just three outs.
Sophomore lefty Angelina DeVoe came in to try to stop the bleeding, but a sacrifice fly from fifth-year second baseman Hannah Adams signified a fatal wound for UCF. Now up 3-1, Florida continued to create chaos.
Senior right fielder Cheyenne Lindsey lifted a shot to left field that clipped Burge’s glove for an error, scoring Goelz. Later, sophomore left fielder Katie Kistler recorded her second hit, a 2-RBI single to right field that scored Wallace and Echols unearned.
UCF made one more pitching change, and sophomore catcher Emily Wilkie scored UF two more runs with a double down the left-field line before the inning was over. When the dust settled, the final damage was six runs on three hits and an error in a monstrous second inning, leaving the score at 8-1.
The Knights would scratch a couple more in the top of the fourth on a two-RBI Schappacher triple, but that wasn’t nearly enough for UCF to come back in this one. A sixth-inning Adams leadoff home run was the cherry on top of Florida’s fourth ranked win in 2022.
The Gators begin their second SEC road trip Friday, taking on the 17th-ranked Auburn Tigers. First pitch is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+.
Contact Caleb Wiegandt at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CalebWiegandt.