The Florida softball team is rediscovering its offensive power.
In their Monday game against Alabama, the Gators scored 12 runs on the heels of 10 hits from six players. However, the Orange and Blue have struggled against SEC opponents all season, sporting a collective .274 batting average.
On Thursday, the No. 9 Gators (32-9, 9-7) combined for 10 hits in a comfortable 7-4 win over Ole Miss (29-12, 5-8) in Oxford, Mississippi. With its second win in a row, Florida is climbing back in the conference standings after dropping five of its last nine in the SEC.
The game got off to a shaky start.
Both teams struggled to get momentum in the first two innings. In seven trips to the plate, Florida left empty-handed against Ole Miss pitcher Catelyn Riley. The Rebels got one runner to third base in the second inning but failed to bring in the run.
In the third, three Florida batters found a way around Riley. Freshman Kendra Falby and redshirt junior Skylar Wallace got on base with back-to-back one-out infield singles. The speedy tandem crossed the plate after senior Charla Echols doubled to left-center field.
The Gators extended their lead with a five-run fifth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Falby brought in outfielder Cheyenne Lindsey and catcher Sam Roe with a right-field double. Wallace then wiped the bags with a two-run double and scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-0.
UF pitcher Elizabeth Hightower cruised past the Ole Miss offense, allowing only three hits in the first five innings. However, the Rebels broke the shutout by scratching four runs in the sixth frame.
Hightower induced a groundout to second base before striking out third baseman Paige Smith with a wild pitch. The strikeout would’ve been the second out of the inning hadn’t Smith reached first base on the play.
With two outs on the board, Riley brought in pinch-runner Nyomi Jones with an RBI single to center field. Shortstop Mikayla Allee closed the gap by hitting a three-run bomb past the left-field fence.
Despite the sixth inning jam, Hightower had a solid outing. The senior retired seven batters via flyout and struck out four in six innings of work, earning her 11th win of the year.
Fifth-year senior Natalie Lugo closed the game by retiring the side with a strikeout, flyout and lineout. She earned her second save of the season despite giving a full-count walk to outfielder Tate Whitley to start the inning.
The road win plays a vital role for the Gators as they approach the midway point of their conference schedule. The Rebels were 16-2 at home this season, but UF carried its good offensive momentum into Oxford.
Florida looks to clinch a series win Friday when it steps into Ole Miss Softball Complex for the final games of the series at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The matchups can be streamed via SEC Network+.
Contact Jose Tovar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @jose___tovar.
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.