An extremely strong April schedule was not always kind to Florida softball as it took on some of the best in the Southeastern Conference and the country.
A 5-9 record in the month against ranked teams sunk UF to the middle of a loaded SEC pack heading into next week’s conference tournament at home in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
It was good for the Gators to build confidence against lower-caliber opponents as tuneups for the looming SEC Tournament.
Outscoring its opponents 16-3 in Friday’s two games combined, UF did just that.
No. 10 Florida (40-14, 13-11 SEC) topped Mercer (16-36, 7-11 SoCon) and shutout Florida Gulf Coast (16-33, 9-15 ASUN) to begin its final regular season homestand with a pair of victories. Friday marked the first time the Gators won consecutive home games since March 27 and 30 against Tenneseee and UCF respectively.
Freshman right hander Lexie Delbrey and senior right hander Elizabeth Hightower both earned their respective 13th wins of the season in the matchups, Delbrey against the Bears (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 4 BB) and Hightower versus the Eagles in masterful fashion.
In game one, freshman center fielder Kendra Falby singled to second to start Florida’s rally. After redshirt junior second baseman Skylar Wallace was hit by a pitch, the Gators pulled off a double steal to put runners on second and third.
That set up an RBI-sacrifice fly to left field from senior third baseman Charla Echols to break open the scoring. Senior right fielder Cheyenne Lindsey’s single to right field brought Wallace home to make it 2-0.
Two innings later, sophomore left fielder Katie Kistler accomplished what is becoming a not-so-rare feat for UF with an inside-the-park home run. Her speed awarded Florida with a 3-0 lead by the end of the third inning.
The Bears scored one of their three runs in the top of the fifth on junior first baseman Diamond Williams’ sacrifice fly, but Kistler continued her big day at the plate in the bottom of the inning, tripling to right center to plate two more for the Gators and bringing the score to 5-1.
Mercer never threatened the lead, although the Bears scratched a run in each of the final two frames. UF sealed the win with a three-run bottom of the sixth, one of which became Kistler’s fourth RBI of the day.
Game two against the Eagles was decidedly more fruitful for the Gators.
UF plated at least one run in each of the six innings of the nightcap, the second inning the most explosive with Florida adding three to the board.
With two runners on, sophomore first baseman Avery Goelz singled up the middle to plate a run for the Gators, and two batters later, Wallace cleared the bases with a two-RBI triple to right. UF led 4-0 at the end of the second.
Hightower pitched one of her better contests this season (6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K) in the complete-game shutout. The Monticello, Florida, native held Florida Gulf Coast to a .091 batting average and left them 0-10 at the plate with runners on.
Florida concludes its regular season Saturday with another pair of matchups with Mercer and FGCU. The Gators take on the Bears at noon and the Eagles at 2:30 p.m. Both games will stream on SEC Network+.