With Florida and Arkansas locked in a scoreless battle through four innings, freshman Sam Roe occupied a tough space on the dirt.
The Gators’ usual catcher looked out of her element playing an unusual second baseman due to staple starter Hannah Adams’ injury.
In the top of the fifth, Razorbacks junior second baseman Audrie LaValley dribbled a ground ball to Roe. The Destin, Florida, native bobbled the ball for a moment, ultimately coming up without it and putting a runner on for the Hogs.
That was the beginning of a long night in the dirt for Gators infielders.
No. 8 UF (35-10, 11-8), hindered by defensive miscues, fell hard to No. 7 Arkansas (34-8, 13-4) 9-1 Friday night in its unquestionably ugliest loss of the season. Three of Florida's errors came in the fifth and sixth innings that doomed Florida to an insurmountable hole.
Senior left-hander Elizabeth Hightower escaped blame on the stat sheet (4.1 IP, 5 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 7 K). The Monticello, Florida, native extended her season-high scoreless-inning streak to 12 frames despite five Razorbacks scoring during her time in the circle, each unearned.
Florida head coach Tim Walton credited the SEC-leading Razorbacks but acknowledged the difficult situation the team put itself in.
“You’re not gonna win a game walking eight people and making three errors,” Walton said.
The Gators defense looked shakiest in a decimating fifth inning.
Roe fumbled the grounder that allowed LaValley to reach. Hightower made an errant throw on the following play to first to allow sophomore shortstop Cally Kildow to advance to second and LaValley to third.
Arkansas senior center fielder KB Sides dropped a single to left to score one. After she stole second, senior left fielder Hannah McEwen drew a walk. That was all Danielle Gibson needed as the senior first baseman lifted a three-RBI double to right field that blew open the game at 4-0.
That shot ended Hightower’s night prematurely, and sophomore lefty Haley Pittman entered the circle for UF. The Razorbacks scratched one more on a single down the left-field line from senior designated player Linnie Malkin before their half was over. In total, Florida gave up a whopping five runs in the inning, all of them unearned.
Florida did more self-inflicted damage in the next frame.
Kildow gave Arkansas another single down the left-field line, and Sides drew a walk. McEwen reached on a fielder’s choice to reload the bases on a ball that Pittman flipped a comebacker to home plate to save a run.
Graduate catcher Taylor Ellsworth then earned an RBI walk, and on the third bases-loaded opportunity of the inning, Gibson hit a ball that rolled right between Roe’s feet and into right field.
Two more runners came home, and the Razorbacks scored for a final time on Malkin’s second RBI single of the game. As if it scored enough in the fifth, Arkansas nearly matched its big inning in the sixth on another costly Florida miscue.
With little hope alive, redshirt junior shortstop Skylar Wallace came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and singled. She stole her counting program-record 38th base of the year before freshman left fielder Kendra Falby brought her home on a single up the middle.
That’s all the Gators would get.
Freshman Reagan Walsh and senior right fielder Cheyenne Lindsey went down swinging, and pinch hitter Sarah Longley fouled out to third to end the beginning of a daunting comeback bid.
Game two of UF’s high-profile series against Arkansas will be Senior Day. First pitch is set for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and will broadcast on ESPN2.
Contact Caleb Wiegandt at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @CalebWiegandt.