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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Walsh plays hero in UF’s walk-off victory against Ole Miss

Gators end four-game losing streak with win Friday

Florida infielder Reagan Walsh swings her bat during the Gators' 8-7 win against the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday, April 15, 2023.
Florida infielder Reagan Walsh swings her bat during the Gators' 8-7 win against the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday, April 15, 2023.

With the Rebels in Gainesville, Ole Miss looked destined to claim the first game of its three-game series against Florida Friday under the bright lights of Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

With two runners on base — and a whole lot of momentum leaning toward UF in the bottom of the seventh — UF sophomore infielder Reagan Walsh had other plans; she pierced the ball into the starless black sky deep to left field.

“I was just looking for a pitch to drive on,” Walsh said.

The No. 14 Florida Gators (33-15, 9-10 SEC) defeated the Ole Miss Rebels (27-22, 6-13 SEC) 6-5 via a three-run walk-off home run to start the last three-game series of Southeastern Conference play in the regular season at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Despite hitting .240 for the day, UF won a game for the first time in almost a week

Florida graduate student pitcher Elizabeth Hightower made her 21st start of the season in the circle. She allowed Ole Miss senior outfielder Tate Whitley to single to start the top of the first inning.

Hightower retired the next two batters with heat-missile pitches. One of those pitches caused Rebels senior infielder Paige Smith to swing so hard the papers from her back pocket flew around home plate like confetti.

The Gators’ defense held Ole Miss scoreless in the top of the inning. UF’s batting average leader, redshirt junior infielder Skylar Wallace, went to bat to begin the bottom of the first.

Ole Miss senior pitcher Makenna Kliethermes got Wallace to ground out, but Gators sophomore outfielder Kendra Falby hit a single to get on base.

Kliethermes’ control completely slipped after the single.

UF graduate student third baseman Charla Echols homered to right field and hit the light pole beyond the outfield wall like a video game cutscene to give Florida an early 2-0 lead. The Rebels regrouped to finish the first inning with two consecutive outs.

The ball never left the infield in the top of the second inning. The Gators’ infielders collected two outs in a row, and Hightower struck out Ole Miss senior outfielder Mya Stevenson to end the half.

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Kliethermes walked multiple batters in the bottom of the second. The right-handed pitcher walked UF sophomore catcher Sam Roe, junior first baseman Avery Goelz and Wallace with two outs on deck.

Despite Kliethermes' struggles, she forced Falby to pop fly to center field to finish the second inning.

Florida’s infielders made mistakes in the top of the third inning. Two throws missed Gators junior first baseman Emily Wilkie's glove to put two Rebels on the diamond and led to a run scored by Whitley.

A pop fly out caught by Goelz — who played in the right outfield for the game — retired the top of the inning; UF led 2-1.

Ole Miss senior pitcher Brooke Vestal replaced Kliethermes in the bottom of the third. She walked Wilkie and Florida graduate student utility player Pal Egan but left the third without allowing any hits.

Hightower — who pitched through 3.1 innings — struggled early in the fourth inning. She hit Rebels sophomore utility player Lexie Brady and allowed freshman utility player Jalia Lassiter to single.

After a double by Ole Miss sophomore infielder Brooke Barnard scored Brady, Gators senior pitcher Rylee Trlicek replaced Hightower. She threw a wild pitch that gave Lassiter time to score. UF salvaged two outs to end the top of the inning. The Rebels’ led 3-2.

“They're a scrappy team. They’re gonna be aggressive,” Echols said. “They’re not gonna lay down and take anything. We’re gonna have to play our best game.”

Ole Miss returned the favor and retired the Gators in order in the fourth. The Rebels added salt to Florida’s wound with a Smith home run to open the fifth inning.

The homer was followed by an out and two singles from Rebels sophomore infielder Keila Kamoku and Brady.

The Gators caught Brady stealing at second base, but it gave Kamoku time to run home. Ole Miss left the top of the fifth with a 5-2 lead.

Echols singled after Falby grounded out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Echols advanced to second off a wild pitch but didn’t get any further. The Rebels held firm and ended the fifth inning with two straight outs after the leadoff single.

Florida’s defense held Ole Miss scoreless but committed an error before leaving the top of the sixth inning.

Egan reached second base on a poor throw to first base that went past Smith. Egan later attempted to steal third but was a part of three straight outs to end the inning.

Trlicek started the seventh inning on the wrong foot for the Gators. She walked Smith and gave Kamoku another single to her day. However, the 5-foot-4-inch pitcher did her part and retired the top of the seventh with three consecutive outs.

UF went into the bottom of the seventh inning on top of its batting rotation. Wallace singled to get a potential Florida comeback started. 

The flames grew after Vestal walked Falby. Echols then singled to center field to bring in Wallace for a run to cut the Rebels’ lead to 5-3.

“We are gonna find a way to win this game,” Echols said about what UF players told themselves going into the bottom of the inning.

Then magic happened.

Walsh — who didn’t record a single hit throughout the game — homered deep to left field and completed UF’s comeback with a three-run walk-off home run.

“I really didn’t have the best game ever, but rounding third and seeing my teammates is one of the best feelings you can have as an athlete,” Walsh said.

Florida won 6-5 and ended a four-game losing streak.

The Gators will face Ole Miss once again for the second game of its three-game series in Gainesville at noon Saturday. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Contact Brandon Hernandez at Follow him on Twitter @BranH2001.

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Brandon Hernandez

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.

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