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Friday, August 12, 2022

Florida run-rules Georgia State and Coastal Carolina to finish Bubly Invitational

Senior right-handed pitcher Elizabeth Hightower delivers a pitch against Louisville, 2021.
Senior right-handed pitcher Elizabeth Hightower delivers a pitch against Louisville, 2021.

It’s almost as if the Florida softball team wanted to speed through its Sunday doubleheader with ease. 

The No. 4 Gators (21-1) wasted no time in their quest by scoring 25 combined runs and allowing just one in back-to-back games Sunday against Coastal Carolina and Georgia State. 

Florida demolished CCU, 17-1, before shutting out the Panthers, 8-0, in the Bubly Invitational finales at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The Gators now move into the second phase of their season: SEC play. 

“Now, we're going to play teams that have all gone to the College World Series,” head coach Tim Walton said. “We have to do a good job of getting better and identify that the smartest thing we need to do is not focus on who our next opponent is. It's about what we've done well and continue to sharpen up and get better.”

In the first game of the day, Coastal Carolina took an early lead with two first-inning hits. 

Senior Makiya Thomas led off with a single to center and then reached second base on a wild pitch by Florida ace Elizabeth Hightower. Sophomore Iyanla De Jesus brought in Thomas with a single to shallow left field. 

Everything after that first run was a Gator offensive showcase. 

In the bottom of the frame, redshirt junior Skylar Wallace crushed a shot to center field and sprinted the diamond for a three-run inside-the-park home run. The monstrous hit bounced off the center-field wall as freshman Kendra Falby and fifth-year senior Hannah Adams also rounded the bases. 

Senior Charla Echols followed with a single to right field before freshman Reagan Walsh earned a free trip to first base with a walk. In the next at-bat, Echols crossed the plate after senior Cheyenne Lindsey bunted a pitch along the third-base line. The damage was compounded by a throwing error by Chanticleers’ freshman Keirstin Roose. 

Sophomore Avery Goelz brought in Walsh and Lindsey with a single up the middle to make it 6-1 after one inning.  In the second, Wallace added the Gators' seventh run with an Echols RBI double. 

Coastal Carolina’s offense struggled to find any momentum, mostly because of a solid outing in the circle from Hightower. The Monticello, Florida, native delivered five strikeouts and only allowed two hits in four innings. She now boasts a 1.08 ERA with a 5-0 record.   

Goelz extended Florida’s lead in the third frame after scoring from second base on a Falby wild pitch. Falby had struck out swinging but reached second after CCU catcher Maddy Jennings lost control of the pitch. Goelz narrowly beat the throw to home plate and made it 7-1.

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Florida unleashed its maximum potential in the fourth when it scored nine runs on the heels of seven hits and three walks. During the frame, the Gators had four non-starters cross the plate, including catcher Sam Roe, outfielder Mia Buffano, junior Sarah Longley and infielder Kinsey Goelz. 

Graduate pitcher Marissa Mesiemore came from the bullpen to seal Florida’s first run-rule win of the day. Although she gave up a walk, Mesiemore was able to retire the Chanticleer’s last three batters via flyout and pop-ups. 

In the game against Georgia State, the Gators followed a similar recipe.

After a scoreless first inning, Florida scratched seven runs in as many hits in the second. 

Roe hit a sacrifice fly to center field to bring in Lindsey, and Avery scored when outfielder Katie Kistler made contact for a single. Falby brought in Kistler and scored after Adams lined a double to left-center field. 

Wallace blasted a two-run home run before Echols reached the plate on a fielding error by Georgia State center fielder Emily Brown. Blinded by the sun, Brown dropped a routine fly ball that put the Panthers one run away from the dreaded run-rule. 

Similar to the first game, Georgia State was unable to slice any hits until the fifth frame. Freshman Lexie Delbrey had a no-hitter through 4.1 innings until Panthers third baseman Bailee Richardson broke the zero with a single to the left side.

Delbrey still secured her seventh win of the year by striking out seven and allowing one hit in five innings. She leads the team with 65 strikeouts and has a 1.72 ERA. 

Roe called check-mate for the Gators with a walk-off home run to left field in the bottom of the fifth. She was confident, she was prepared for that moment. 

“I was just thinking: ‘Trust your hands,’” Roe said. “It was just being able to settle down. It's just an at-bat, one pitch at a time and get through the ball.”

The Gators will take this week off to prepare for their first SEC series of the season against Mississippi State. Florida is set to host the Bulldogs at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium March 12-14. 

Contact Jose Tovar at jtovar@alligator.org. Find him on Twitter @jose___tovar.

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