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Thursday, February 02, 2023

Florida falls 8-3 in game one of the Alabama series

Crimson Tide pitcher Montana Fouts dominated the Gators with 11 strikeouts

Florida softball pitcher Elizabeth Hightower started strong but was pulled early in loss to No. 5 Alabama
Florida softball pitcher Elizabeth Hightower started strong but was pulled early in loss to No. 5 Alabama

The series opener between Florida and Alabama promised to be a jousting battle — at least on paper. 

Both squads boasted earned run averages below 2.10 and allowed the same number of runs (79) heading into the game. They were also ranked No. 1 and 2 in the SEC preseason poll, receiving 10 combined first-place votes. 

Those high expectations, however, fell short Saturday night. 

No. 7 Florida (30-8, 7-6) was routed by No. 5 Alabama (32-5, 9-4), 8-3 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium after the Gators allowed seven runs in the first two innings and struck out 11 times during the game. 

“I saw a team that just capitalized a little bit better on their opportunities,” UF head coach Tim Walton said.

UF pitcher Elizabeth Hightower got off on the right foot to start in the first inning, striking out the side with only 13 pitches. The senior seemed confident in the circle after throwing seven strikeouts in seven innings of work against No. 2 Florida State Wednesday

However, the game would slowly get out of her hand. 

In the second frame, Hightower found herself in a one-out jam. She allowed two singles and a 12-pitch walk before Crimson Tide freshman Jenna Lord hit a two-run double down the left-field line. 

Hightower limited the damage by retiring outfielders Kat Grill and Dellis Goodnight with a lineout and a strikeout.

The Gators' nightmares were only getting started.  

An inning later, the Alabama offense came back in full force to score five runs on the heels of six hits.

Hightower once again started the frame by loading the bags with two singles and a walk. Alabama first baseman Kaylee Tow capitalized by slicing a hit to short center-field to bring in catcher Ally Shipman and third baseman Ashley Prange. 

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The Crimson Tide extended the lead to six after Lord notched her second two-run double of the game. This time, a line drive to right-center field missed the glove of UF outfielder Cheyenne Lindsey by a few inches. 

Entering Saturday, Lord had a .250 batting average with eight hits and six runs-batted-in. In the eighth spot, the freshman had a career game with four RBIs and two hits in four at-bats. 

Sophomore lefty Haley Pittman replaced Hightower following Lord’s double but couldn’t do much to stop the bleeding. Alabama added another run thanks to a center-field single by Goodnight and made it 7-0. 

The Gators showed signs of life in the fifth inning. 

Redshirt-junior Skylar Wallace, who played at Alabama for two seasons before transferring to UF, led off with a walk and a stolen base before fifth-year senior Hannah Adams got a free pass to first. 

With runners in scoring position and no outs, senior Charla Echols brought in Wallace with a center field single. Adams later crossed the plate after freshman Reagan Walsh hit a double to right-center field. 

Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts walked Lindsey to load the bases but scratched two outs after catcher Emily Wilkie struck out swinging and first baseman Avery Goelz hit a flyout to left field. 

Outfielder Katie Kistler, however, brought in pinch-runner Christina Wellen, who made her first appearance in the Orange and Blue, with an infield hit to make it 7-3. 

The Gators and around 2,609 fans — the second-highest attendance ever at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium — hoped to extend the rally. Still, a strikeout by pinch-hitter Sarah Longley ended the threat. 

In the fifth inning, Pittman left the game after Alabama put runners on third and second with a single and a double with two outs. Graduate pitcher Marissa Mesiemore came from the bullpen to face Shipman and induced a groundout to shortstop. 

An infield error by Wallace, a single, and a walk gave Alabama loaded bases in the top of the sixth inning. Mesiemore struggled to find the zone against Goodnight, finally issuing a full-count wall that brought in pinch-runner Savannah Woodard. 

The Gators had a last chance to rally in the seventh but fell short against a powerful pitching performance by Fouts. The senior ace struck out 11 batters and only allowed four hits in seven innings.   

Florida hopes to bounce back in game two of the series at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium Sunday. The matchup is scheduled for 4 p.m. and can be broadcast on ESPN2.  

Contact Jose Tovar at jtovar@alligator.org. Find him on Twitter @jose___tovar.

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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.


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