Skylar Wallace had a different kind of Friday night.
While many in Gainesville were preparing to visit the stunning beaches of Florida for Spring Break, the redshirt junior from Woodstock, Georgia, was stealing bases and scoring runs for the Gators softball team.
Wallace’s four stolen bases, three runs and three RBIs played a crucial role in No. 4 Florida’s back-to-back wins over Georgia State and Coastal Carolina on the first day of the Bubly Invitational Friday.
“[My] mindset was to come out and just have fun,” Wallace said. “Softball is a game of failure, so just keeping your head up and getting after each pitch is something I try to hold myself to and just get after.”
The Gators (18-1) opened the doubleheader against the Georgia State Panthers (6-9), who were coming off a 3-0 victory over Tennessee State, with a familiar face in the circle.
Senior Elizabeth Hightower made her return after missing 10 games with an undisclosed “discomfort.” Her last appearance wearing the orange and blue was Feb. 18 when she pitched six innings versus Duke.
Although she left with a no-decision, Hightower pitched four innings with four strikeouts and three walks against the Panthers. She was limited to 55 pitches before Marissa Mesiemore entered the game.
Georgia State took an early lead after shortstop Daisy Hess stole home plate in the second inning. She scored from third after UF first baseman Avery Goelz fumbled the softball trying to tag freshman Skylar Chavez out during a first and second base rundown.
Florida answered quickly in that frame. Goelz got on base with a walk and then scored from third base on a wild pitch by Georgia State pitcher Hallie Adams. Both teams turned in sluggish at-bats for the next two innings, recording only one single and two walks combined.
However, freshman Kendra Falby sparked the Gators’ offense again in the fifth. She earned a walk and stole second base before reaching third on a throwing error by Georgia State catcher Carolyn Deady. Falby then crossed home plate following an RBI single from fifth-year senior Hannah Adams.
Freshman Reagan Walsh sealed the Gators’ first win of the day with a solo bomb to left field in
the sixth inning to make it 3-1. The Redondo Beach, California, native was playing as a designated player instead of her usual shortstop. Wallace covered for her in the infield.
Mesiemore completed three scoreless innings with three strikeouts to earn her second win of the season. She allowed only one hit in 11 at-bats.
The Gators’ game against Coastal Carolina was a complete turnaround. Despite being down one with an early home run, Florida scored eight runs on 11 hits and stole six bases to secure its 18th win.
In the first inning, Falby earned a leadoff walk before reaching third base on a perfectly placed bunt by Adams. In the ensuing at-bat, Adams stole second, and Wallace hit a base-clearing single to give the Gators a 2-0 lead.
Wallace extended the lead to three by stealing home plate on a Coastal Carolina defensive miscue. In the third frame, she tripled to deep left field before scoring on another error. Chanticleer's center fielder Makiya Thomas dropped a line drive by senior Charla Echols and gave Florida a 4-1 edge.
The Gators’ final four runs came in consecutive innings. In the fourth, a left-field double by Falby brought in freshman catcher Sam Roe. Walsh hit an RBI double in the fifth to bring in Wallace. Finally, in the sixth, Falby, Adams and Wallace hit consecutive singles to make it 8-1.
The trio scored seven of the team’s eight runs. Wallace went 3-3 with three runs, three RBIs and two triples. Falby and Adams followed with two runs each.
Freshman Lexie Delbrey earned her sixth win of the year after recording eight strikeouts in six innings. Sophomore Rylee Trlicek threw a single inning with two strikeouts to close the deal.
Florida returns to action Saturday against the Tennessee State Tigers at 1 p.m. for the second day of the Bubly Invitational.
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.