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Monday, March 20, 2023

No. 10 Florida sweeps series against Blazers behind Longley’s career day

Gators allowed only five hits through entire game

Florida pitcher Rylee Trlicek stands in the pitching circle in the Gators' 11-0 win against the Jacksonville Dolphins Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Florida pitcher Rylee Trlicek stands in the pitching circle in the Gators' 11-0 win against the Jacksonville Dolphins Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.

Florida senior utility player Sarah Longley made contact with the ball on her first time at-bat. She watched the yellow ball disappear into the air.

The ball sailed past the wall in left center field to get the Gators’ on the scoreboard and kicked off a career day for Longley.

The No. 10 Florida Gators (14-3) defeated the Alabama Birmingham Blazers (10-10) 4-1 Sunday through seven innings. UF hit 10 times, and Longley launched a career-high two home runs to sweep the weekend series against UAB.

The Gators had two consecutive outs to start the game. Florida graduate student third baseman Charla Echols drilled the ball to center field and opened the bases with a double for the first hit of the game.

Despite stealing third base, Echols didn’t get too far. Blazers shomore pitcher Olivia Valbak struck Walsh out swinging to end the top of the first.

Florida graduate student pitcher Elizabeth Hightower set the tone early for UF’s defense.

She struck a UAB hitter out and threw two lofty balls. The Blazers’ batters struggled to hit with strength and were forced into easy outs. Wallace scooped a ground ball and threw to first base to end the first inning.

The Gators struggled to find open grass early in the game. Florida had just one hit through the first two innings.

Valbak cracked the ball in the left-field corner for a double and gave Alabama Birmingham its first appearance on base in the bottom of the second. 

Two batters later, UAB junior outfielder Lilly Crowe hit the ball over Florida first baseman Avery Goelz and ran to first.

Valbak ran home to score the first Blazers run of the weekend series and gave UAB a 1-0 lead.

The Gators finished the inning and held Alabama Birmingham from stretching its lead.

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With an out in the top of the third inning, UF senior utility player Sarah Longley, on a full count, whacked the ball deep to center right field for a home run --- her second of the year --- to tie it one apiece.

Other Gators soon followed behind the Royal Palm Beach, Florida, product’s footsteps. Florida sophomore outfielder Kendra Fably hit a double and was scored in thanks to a single by Echols to give UF a 2-1 lead.

Valbak struck out Walsh for the last out of the top of the third and ended UF’s spark on offense in the inning.

Hightower — who pitched through 3.2 innings and recorded two strikeouts — went back to work and escorted three Blazers straight into the dugout. Florida forced three consecutives UAB outs to end the third inning.

The fourth inning saw little to no action until Crowe smacked the ball for a double at the wall in left center field in the bottom of the inning with UF one out away from ending the inning.

Florida head coach Tim Walon walked to the circle and ended Hightowers day after the Gators’ pitchers allowed a single. He called in UF senior pitcher Rylee Trlicek to finish the inning.

Trlicek shut down the University of Alabama Birmingham when UAB sophomore infielder Alyssa Aguilar’s hit was grounded to Echols and thrown out at first base.

The fifth inning was a defensive matchup due to both teams infielders' attention to detail when finishing outs. Echols — who finished with two hits and an RBI — was not only an offensive threat, but a defensive mogul.

She zipped a grounded ball to first base to end the inning.

Florida started the sixth inning with a double to center field by freshman first baseman Olivia Gigante. Sophomore catcher Sam Roe followed with a single that allowed Gigante to advance to third base.

In an attempt to keep the Gators away from another run, Blazer senior pitcher Sarah Cespedes replaced Valbek.

The Sterrett, Alabama, product struggled to pitch past UF batters, but UAB’s defense came to her aid.

Alabama Birmingham sophomore infielder Lindsey Smith leaned back to catch the ball for an acrobatic out in her first time pitching in the afternoon.

Crowe snagged a pop fly into left field and ended Florida’s chance to add on to its lead in the inning.

Trlicek — with two outs and a Blazer at second — threw four balls toward Droddy. The Gators found themselves in another tight situation late in the inning.

The left-handed pitcher rescued UF as Aguilar grounded toward her circle. Trlicek chased Aguilar down and threw to first base to end the inning.

Longley gave Florida breathing room with her second home run of the day down the line into right center field to start the seventh inning.

Faby doubled to continue the hitting streak. It ended as UAB sophomore outfielder Bella Wiggins caught two consecutive fly outs in center field.

Walsh answered with a single grounded past the Blazers’ third basemen to run in Falby and extend UF’s lead to 4-1.

The top of the seventh ended with a pop fly caught out by Aguilar.

UAB nearly regained the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Trlicek — with Blazers on first and third base and an out away from closing the game — saw her pitch make contact with Valbek’s bat; she immediately ran to first.

UF caught a lucky break as the ball bounced in front of the batter and into Echols’ glove. She threw to first base in time for the final out of the game.

Florida will travel back to Gainesville to prepare for an in-state matchup against the Central Florida Golden Knights at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

Contact Brandon Hernandez at Follow him on Twitter @BranH2001.

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Brandon Hernandez

Brandon Hernandez is a student at the University of Florida studying journalism. He is a writer for The Alligator, Gator Country and for PlugTalkSports. You can find most of his work on his Twitter (BranH2001) and on his podcast, “The Courtside Podcast,” on Spotify.

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