Florida faced a grave six-runs deep in the bottom of the fourth inning. Tennessee sophomore infielder McKenna Gibson smashed the final nail in the coffin.
She tripled to right field and brought in two runs. The shot put Florida in run-rule loss territory.
The No. 13 Florida Gators (32-12, 8-8 SEC) lost 9-1 to the No. 4 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (36-5, 14-2 SEC) Saturday to open the three-game series at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville.
The Gators recorded four hits against two pitchers but never hit more than a double. The Lady Volunteers held the Gators to a .211 hitting percentage.
Tennessee began the day with graduate student pitcher Ashley Rogers in the circle; Florida redshirt junior Skylar Wallace led off for the Gators.
Wallace smashed Rogers’ second pitch into the center-field wall for a leadoff double. She later advanced to third base after Gators sophomore outfielder Kendra Falby was thrown out at first.
Rogers and the Lady Volunteers kept Wallace away from home plate and finished the opening frame with two consecutive outs.
UF graduate student pitcher Elizabeth Hightower started in the circle for Florida. The right-handed pitcher went straight to work and struck out Tennessee senior outfielder Kiki Milloy swinging for the first out in the bottom of the inning.
Hightower forced outs by the first two batters she faced. However, Gibson got her bat under the ball and homered to left-center field for the first run of the afternoon.
Hightower struggled after she gave up the dinger. She walked Tennessee junior infielder Zaida Puni and senior infielder Mackenzie Donihoo after Gibson’s at-bat.
The first inning ended when Hightower struck out Lady Volunteers junior outfielder Giulia Koutsoyanopulos; Tennessee led 1-0.
Gators sophomore catcher Sam Roe singled to third base after Florida graduate student utility player Pal Egan was caught out in the top of the second inning.
Roe’s single was the only hit in the top of the inning. Rogers struck out senior utility player Sarah Longley to end the half inning.
Hightower and Florida’s defense regrouped in the bottom of the second inning. The Gators kept the Lady Volunteers away from the diamond and produced three outs to end the inning.
UF failed to figure out Rogers’ pitches through a full rotation of the lineup. Wallace finally pierced the ball deep past the left-center-field wall and into the scoreboard to tie that game at one apiece. The homer marked her 14th of the season.
Tennessee senior pitcher Payton Gottshall replaced Rogers following a Falby single that reached due to an error in the infield. Falby stole second with Florida graduate student third baseman Charla Echols at-bat.
Tennessee held the Gators from any more hits in the inning. The Lady Volunteers threw UF sophomore infielder Reagan Walsh out at first to end the top of the third inning.
Hightower got the bottom of the third started with a Milloy walk. Lady Volunteers sophomore infielder Lair Beautae grounded to second base, but Walsh didn’t make the throw to first in time to catch Beautae out.
Gibson doubled to center field with no outs and two Tennessee players on base. By the time Florida brought the ball back to the infield, Tennessee added two more runs to its score.
The Gators struck out Donihoo after the double but put Lady Volunteers senior outfielder Shakara Goodloe — who pinch ran for Gibson — at third; Echols was called for obstruction on her attempt to get Goodloe out.
UF found itself facing a bases-loaded dilemma with only one out in the bottom of the third inning. The situation worsened due to a grand slam by Tennessee junior catcher Rylie West. The Lady Volunteers led 7-1 at the end of the third.
Roe followed an Egan pop-fly out with a double off a Tennessee error by Puni at third base early in the top of the fourth inning. The double was the only hit Florida got out of the inning. The Lady Volunteers grabbed two consecutive outs to end the top of the fourth.
Gators graduate student pitcher Samantha Bender replaced Hightower in the bottom of the inning. The Tennessee transfer hit Milloy with her first pitch of the game. Milloy then stole second base with Beautae at-bat.
Bender walked Beautae. Gibson — who already was on cycle watch with a double and a home run — came along for the next at-bat.
The California native tripled right near the first-base foul line in right field. Milloy and Beautae scored to push Tennessee’s lead to 9-1. UF scraped three outs after the double to end the fourth inning.
Gottshall and the Lady Volunteers retired three straight Florida batters to run rule the Gators. The loss marks the second time this season UF lost a game with only one run scored.
Florida will stay in Knoxville to play Tennessee Sunday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.
Brandon Hernandez is currently the enterprise sports writer and sports podcast host for The Independent Alligator. He likes long walks on the sidewalk and watching basketball tape in his off time. You can find most of his work @BranH2001 on X and on The Courtside Podcast on Spotify.