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Thursday, February 02, 2023

Gators drop series opener against Volunteers

Florida softball records third scoreless game of the season, falling 6-0 to Tennessee

<p>No. 7 Florida Gators softball fell in game two of a weekend series against the No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide.</p>

No. 7 Florida Gators softball fell in game two of a weekend series against the No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide.

With clear skies following a gloomy day, the Gators softball squad suited up to take on the No. 15 Tennessee Volunteers. Friday was Florida’s first ranked home SEC matchup of the season.

No. 6 Florida failed to put a run on the scoreboard while Tennessee racked up runs and defeated the Gators 6-0 in the first game of the series.

Both teams consistently delivered strong pitching and defenses were stout, quickly tagging out helpless base runners.

In the second inning, Florida sophomore Avery Goelz reached first on a fielder’s choice, but not without an uproar from the Tennessee staff. First-base umpire Tonya Cash put on the headset to review if Goelz made it to the base on time. She was ruled safe minutes later.

Tennessee junior Kiki Milloy snapped senior Elizabeth Hightower's string of two consecutive strikes to record a triple towards left-center field. Goelz quickly responded, tagging out Volunteer baserunner Amanda Ayala at first base on the ensuing play, ending the top of the third before Tennessee crossed the plate.

Florida freshman Kendra Falby quickly made her way on base by hitting a single towards second. She then made a dashing attempt to steal second but was declared out by umpire Keith Kearney. 

Head coach Tim Walton immediately called for a replay, and Falby was declared out, caught stealing. 

Redshirt junior Skylar Wallace started the bottom of the fourth with a hit that seemed destined to be a homer for the Gators, but Milloy robbed Florida. She completed a spectacular snow cone catch over the wall, taking UF's chance to score right from underneath them.

At the top of the fifth, freshman McKenna Gibson hit a home run for the Volunteers, finally breaking open the scoreless game. Florida assistant coach Mike Bosch took a pause to talk to Hightower after she allowed Tennessee graduate student Kelcy Leach to walk following the homer. 

Trailing 1-0, Florida tried to manufacture a run, starting with sophomore Cheyenne Lindsey securely making it to first on a bunt. Goelz was quick to single and help Lindsey make her way to second, but she got caught in a safe-call predicament.

Ina game full of close calls, Tennessee's head coach Karen Weekly quickly requested a review of Goelz’s status at first base, and she was declared safe. 

With two outs on the board after a sacrifice bunt by Florida’s catcher Sam Roe, the Gators put runners in scoring position for the first time in the game. 

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All eyes turned to Falby as she stepped into the batter's box. Edmoundson kept her off base after she grounded off to Tennessee’s catcher Kelcy Leach, leaving the Gators scoreless. 

Florida entered the top of the sixth, hoping to force a scoreless Tennessee inning. After allowing Volunteers sophomore Rylie West to take a free stroll to first base, Bosch once again went to chat with Hightower, who had allowed back-to-back walks.

As the Volunteers saw Hightower slipping, Morgan took advantage. She doubled down the left-field line, allowing graduate student Ivy Davis and senior Kaitlin Parsons to score, who pinch ran for West.

Graduate student pitcher Melissa Mesiemore came into the circle after Hightower allowed Tennessee to grow a 3-0 lead. She was able to get the final out in the top of the sixth. 

Florida's offense continued to struggle as the game went by. Wallace hit a fastball down the middle, managing her way to first. As the game slowly approached its end, everything was about the Gators’ baserunners. Wallace delivered, stealing second and advancing to third due to a throwing error from Leach.

The Volunteer coaching staff met with Edmoundson and Leach as Wallace reached a scoring position with two outs on the board. Walsh was due up, and popped out, giving up the Gator's opportunity to score.

Entering the final moments of the game, Mesiemore maintained control for the first two Tennessee batters she faced. However, Ayala doubled and allowed junior Shakara Goodloe, who pinch ran for Milloy, to advance to third, putting Tennessee back in scoring position.

Beautae delivered for the Volunteers, hitting down the middle and allowing Goodloe to score while stealing second in the process.

The bases were loaded for the first time in the game and Meisemore was under a lot of pressure. Davis hit a single and allowed Ayala and Beautae to score, giving Tennessee a 6-0 lead.

Wallace, in an attempt to catch Davis’s hit, threw herself on her side; resulting in her left elbow being scratched up, making it bleed. 

As Mesisemore’s pitching began to falter, sophomore Haley Pittman was up in the circle for the Gators. However, Pittman’s pitching allowed Morgan to walk, having the bases juiced for the second time.

The Gators were in a dangerous position, close to dropping the first game of their series with Tennessee.

In the bottom of the seventh, Florida could not manage to get a single batter on base against Tennessee’s pitching and defense.

The Gators play the second game of the series Saturday at 1 p.m. inside Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The matchup can be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Vanessa Sanchez at vsanchez@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @_vanessa_sanch

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