Gators fifth-year pitcher Natalie Lugo entered Florida’s Women’s College World Series opener against the Oregon State Beavers under the hardest conditions any pitcher could dare endure: taking over the circle from freshman Lexie Delbrey with the bases loaded and no outs on the board.
With UF already facing a 1-0 deficit in the top of the second, Lugo responded swiftly to get her team out of the jam. Three quick outs, including a strikeout, settled Florida’s defense and paved the way to success.
The veteran pitcher’s steady performance proved to be the true turning point for UF on defense, as the No. 14-seed Gators escaped Oklahoma City with a 7-1 victory over the Beavers.
Florida’s first appearance in the WCWS since 2019 came after a thrilling Super Regional series against the No. 3 Virginia Tech Hokies last weekend. The Gators, the only Southeastern Conference team to make the trip to the WCWS, fell in game one but produced a dominant two-game stretch, toppling the Hokies 12-0 in game three and punching their ticket to Oklahoma City.
Oregon State solidified its place on the biggest stage in college softball in less dramatic fashion, handing Stanford a 2-0 loss in game two of its Super and sending its opponents packing.
The Beavers took the early lead with a single from junior infielder Frankie Hammoude driving home sophomore infielder Xiao Gin.
Although the Gators couldn’t find an answer in the bottom of the first, freshman outfielder Kendra Falby tallied her 84th hit of the year, the second-most by a freshman in program history behind Kelsey Stewart’s 90-hit season in 2013.
Once Lugo got Florida’s offense back on the field in the second, the orange and blue took a 2-1 lead. Senior Cheyenne Lindsey and freshman Reagan Walsh proceeded to produce one run apiece.
Redshirt junior Skylar Wallace stole her 52nd base of the year, the second-most in the country, in the third inning, and runs soon followed for UF in the fourth.
The Gators secured a 4-1 lead after a single up the middle from sophomore outfielder Avery Goelz, sent Lindsey and sophomore outfielder Katie Kistler home.
In the fifth, UF senior and third baseman Charla Echols connected on a solo home run, her first since March 22 against the Stetson Hatters.
“We're really just trying to play a good swing on balls trying to go one for one,” Echols said. “Not letting the last at bat affect my next one.”
Another run from both Lindsey and Kistler, courtesy of singles from Decker and Goelz, rounded out an explosive inning for Florida that ended 7-1.
Three more outs from Lugo in the seventh capped a six inning performance that featured just one OSU hit and six strikeouts.
Florida now waits for the winner of the Arizona Wildcats and Oklahoma State Cowgirls to see who it will face Saturday at 7 p.m.
Brenda Bogle is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in sports and media. She joined The Alligator in the Fall of 2021.