Florida softball entered the bottom of the seventh inning against Southern Miss under unusual circumstances, trailing 5-4.
The Gators got runners on base with a leadoff infield single from redshirt junior Skylar Wallace. Third baseman Charla Echols was the next Gator in the order but failed to advance Wallace following a flyout to left field.
Freshman shortstop Reagan Walsh then stepped in the batters’ box with a chance at redemption. She was 1-3 with two groundouts and committed the error that brought in the Golden Eagles’ go-ahead run in the top of seventh.
Walsh fell short.
She smacked a line drive to the glove of Southern Miss infielder Maria Smith and caught Wallace off the base, resulting in a double play and sealing the Gators’ fate.
Florida (16-1) trailed for most of the game but tied the game in the fifth. However, the team’s offense was unable to steal the lead back and ultimately fell to Southern Miss (12-5), 5-4, for its first loss of the year.
Despite the loss, seasoned veterans like Wallace took the game as a learning opportunity.
“Obviously, no one really likes to lose,” she said. “With all the work that you put in day in and day out to try to be the best that we can be, it doesn't feel the greatest to lose. I think it's a good wake-up call.”
The Golden Eagles struck first in the opening inning with a three-run home run by designated player Jana Lee. Florida pitcher Lexie Delbrey got into trouble with runners on first and second base, giving up a walk and hitting a batter before the Southern Miss freshman crushed the ball to deep right field.
The Gators answered with a run in the bottom of the frame. Freshman Kendra Falby scored from second base after Echols sliced a single up the middle, but Wallace was tagged out at the plate after being caught in a rundown.
In the second inning, Southern Miss shortstop Maria Smith destroyed Delbrey’s full-count offering with two outs on the board. Smith smacked the ball with such force, it landed on the roof of the Gators’ bullpen. Falby couldn't do anything but gaze as the ball rainbowed over the fence.
Florida quickly closed the gap when it had bases loaded in the bottom of the second. Infielder Hannah Adams brought in Cheyenne Lindsey after being hit by a pitch. Wallace then worked a walk to bring in catcher Sam Roe and make it 4-3.
The Gators tied the score in the fifth with aggressive base running from Wallace. She got a triple to deep left field and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Echols. In the bottom of the sixth, Katie Kistler and Falby hit back-to-back singles with two outs but were unable to score.
Delbrey struggled to find the strike zone in the first half of the game. She hit two batters and threw a wild pitch and three walks before the fourth inning. However, Delbrey found her groove after having a chat with head coach Walton and pitching coach Mike Bosch.
“I felt like I needed to settle in a little bit sooner than I did,” she said. “I was a little too excited going into the game.”
Delbrey struck out six batters between the fourth and the sixth inning, entering the seventh with confidence. However, the Bainbridge, Georgia, native allowed a single and a walk that represented the winning run for Southern Miss.
Pitcher Marissa Mesiemore was called from the bullpen to stop the threat, but her efforts went unnoticed after Walsh made a wayward throw to first base attempting to score a double play. Golden Eagles senior Destini Brown capitalized on the error and scored from third.
After failing to score in the seventh, Florida lost 5-4.
“Unfortunately, this day was coming,” Walton said. “We just thought we got over the hump a little bit with some of our issues from the fall. They're back again a little bit, so we'll get better. I’m not overly concerned.”
The Gators return to action Friday with a doubleheader against Georgia State and Coastal Carolina on the first day of the Bubly Invitational. The first pitch against Georgia State is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
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.