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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Florida hosts Mississippi State for SEC opener series

The Gators will face the Bulldogs March 12-14 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium

<p>The Florida softball team during a game against Louisville Feb. 27, 2021. The Gators were edged by Mississippi State Sunday, 1-0 to drop game two of a three-game series.</p>

The Florida softball team during a game against Louisville Feb. 27, 2021. The Gators were edged by Mississippi State Sunday, 1-0 to drop game two of a three-game series.

The Florida softball team has one goal: reaching the Women’s College World Series in May. 

Head coach Tim Walton and his players have made this crystal clear all season. 

However, after easing through non-conference play their first challenge comes this weekend. The No. 4 Gators (21-1) host the Mississippi State Bulldogs (15-8) for SEC opening weekend at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium March 12-14. 

Florida looks to extend its five-game winning streak after dropping its first game of the season March 2 against Southern Miss. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, hope to keep building momentum after winning eight of their last 10 matchups. 

During non-conference play, the Gators racked up three wins against ranked opponents. They downed No. 16 Michigan, 4-0 Feb. 12 and crushed No. 25 South Florida, 12-0 the following day. Florida also cruised past No. 9 Duke, 9-3 Feb. 18. 

The Gators and Bulldogs have different expectations for the season. 

According to the SEC Preseason Coaches Poll, Mississippi State is projected to finish 12th in the final standings. Florida ranks second behind Alabama with three first-place votes.  

Most of the Gators' wins this year have been propelled by aggressive base running and hitting prowess. The team leads the nation in stolen bases with 64 and ranks fourth in batting average with a collective .372. 

Redshirt junior Skylar Wallace and freshman Kendra Falby have commanded the offense on most occasions. The duo boasts 20 stolen bases and 29 runs each. Falby leads the team in hits with 36.  

Senior Charla Echols and fifth-year veteran Hannah Adams have contributed as well with 36 combined runs. Echols tops the roster with 28 RBIs, and Adams is fourth with 18. Freshman Reagan Walsh has stepped up early into her UF career with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

The Gators' pitching staff has also proved essential. They sport a collective 1.45 earned run average, which ranks 13th nationally. Seasoned pitchers Natalie Lugo and Elizabeth Hightower lead the charge from the circle with 0.43 and 0.99 ERAs respectively. 

Freshman Lexie Delbrey, who leads the staff with seven wins and boasts 58 strikeouts, will also be a key contributor in the Gator’s mission to stop Mississippi State catcher Mia Davidson.   

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Davidson became the SEC’s all-time home run leader Feb. 18 after hitting bombs against  Southern Illinois and Central Arkansas. She’s now launched 80 career home runs, 11 of them coming in 2022. Davidson also leads the Bulldogs in RBIs (26) and runs (23). 

Historically, the all-time record favors the Gators with a 43-20 lead. Florida has won the last five. However, the Bulldogs took the last series in Gainesville in 2019 after beating the Gators in back-to-back games May 3-4

Florida’s first pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.  

Contact Jose Tovar at Find him on Twitter @jose___tovar.

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Jose Tovar

Jose Tovar is a fourth-year journalism student at the University of Florida specializing in sports and media. He has covered softball and soccer as a beat writer and aspires to work in the sports media industry.

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