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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Florida softball punches its ticket to the regional finals

Through two weather delays, Gators struck lightning as the offense became electric

<p>The Florida Gators fell in game one of their Super Regional against Virginia Tech.</p>

The Florida Gators fell in game one of their Super Regional against Virginia Tech.

The Gators’ postseason has been riddled with weather delays, and Saturday was no different with two delays lasting about four hours combined. 

The No. 14-seeded Florida Gators softball team (45-16, 13-11) defeated Georgia Tech (38-17, 13-11) 7-1 in game three of the Gainesville Regional. 

Freshman Reagan Walsh struck early for Florida in the bottom of the first inning with an RBI double, giving Florida a 2-0 lead. 

At the start of the third inning, right after Florida snagged the first out, the umpires made the call to clear the field for the first weather delay of the evening.

The pause in play separated the die-hards from the lightweight fans at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.  

Gator nation huddled together under the concourse to stay dry and struck up conversations with strangers to pass the time. After the rain died down, fans made their way back to their seats and prepared for the players to retake the field. 

Kids began slipping and sliding down the berm celebrating the skies clearing. 

Jack Harper used concession stand napkins to wipe down his fourth-row seat on the first base side. His friends abandoned him when the elements became too much to bear, but Harper wasn’t going anywhere. 

“I've been a Gator fan since I was 5 years old.” the 81-year-old retiree said. “I’m sticking it out.”

Harper has been closely following Gator softball for 20 years and appreciates the brand of ball the team plays with, and looks forward to Florida making it to the Super Regionals. 

Once play resumed and UF went to bat in the bottom of the third inning, Walsh had more to say. 

The designated player soon struck again to score junior shortstop Skylar Wallace from second base for an RBI single. 

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Walsh went 2-2 on the night, putting the orange and blue up 3-1 before the fourth inning. 

“I think my confidence has definitely gone up throughout my at-bats,” Walsh said. “If you go in there with confidence, you’re going to get on.”

Florida plated two more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning with a two-out rally and capitalized on Georgia Tech’s errors. 

Senior Hannah Adams roped a single up the middle, but the Yellowjackets’ throw to second base was off-target, allowing Falby to get to third and put runners on the corners. Adams stole second base and the throw down from Georgia Tech catcher Emma Kauf was mishandled and allowed the speedy Falby to trot home putting Florida up 4-1.

As the bat was passed to Wallace, she made the most of her plate appearance. With a sweet stroke, Wallace ripped a hit up the middle for a single that scored Adams. 

The Gators were working the Yellowjacket right-handed pitcher Blake Neleman and running circles around her defense. 

Georgia Tech head coach Aileen Morales pulled Blake and relieved the junior with senior Lexi Ray in the circle. Ray forced Echols into a flyout to end the brutal inning with the Gators ahead 5-1. 

Just as play started to pick up, the weather decided to as well in the middle of the fifth inning. The second weather delay of the game lasted about another hour, but the fans remained. 

After an hour’s timeout thanks to mother nature, UF kicked off the fifth inning by loading the bases.

Sophomore catcher Emily Wilkie used a sacrifice fly to center field to bring in right fielder Cheyenne Lindsey from third base and put Florida up 6-1.

Falby kept a two-out rally going by driving the ball up the middle to score Katie Kistler, extending the lead to 7-1. 

The Gators held off the Yellowjackets for two more frames, even as Georgia Tech loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning. Florida made reservations for their date in the championship game Sunday.

Florida has made it out of regionals the last eight years, not including the voided 2020 season.

You’d have to go back to the 2012 season to find the last time UF didn’t make it to Super Regionals. The only other time in Tim Walton’s tenure was in 2006, the first year the program was under the new head coach. 

Florida has now had two dominant games in the 2022 Regionals. The Gators will take on the winner of Georgia Tech and either Wisconsin or Canisius in the championship game. 

If trends continue, Florida could find itself with a ticket to the Super Regionals once more. The Regional Championship game Sunday kicks off at noon on ESPN.  

Contact Madeline Lawson at mlawson@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @MadsLaws.

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