Kentucky junior first baseman Meeko Harrison homered to right center and scored redshirt freshman Jenna Blanton to take the lead against Florida by one run in the top of the fifth inning. Florida redshirt junior shortstop Skylar Wallace then took the lead for the Gators in the bottom when she homered to right center to put UF back in the lead.
Wallace’s home run, her 19th of the season, led to a change of momentum in which two consecutive runs were scored to end the fifth inning and eventually lead the Gators to a win.
“We get punched and we punch back. That’s going to be our mentality throughout the rest of the postseason too,” Florida graduate student third baseman Charla Echols said. “As long as we have time left we have a chance to win,” she said.
The No. 8 seed Florida Gators (35-19, 11-13 SEC) beat the No. 9 seed Kentucky Wildcats (29-19-1, 8-14 SEC) 6-2 in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday afternoon at Bogle Park in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Graduate student right-handed pitcher Elizabeth Hightower started in the circle for the Gators. Wildcats graduate student catcher Kayla Kowalik hit a leadoff single up the middle and advanced to second on a stolen base after junior infielder Erin Coffel popped up to first base.
Wallace threw the ball to junior first baseman Avery Goelz to get graduate student pitcher Kennedy Sullivan out at first to end the top of the first inning, with Kowalik stranded at second.
Kentucky junior pitcher Stephanie Schoonover gave up a walk to Wallace — where she then advanced to second on a passed ball. Florida sophomore center fielder Kendra Falby grounded out to third base and advanced Wallace to third.
Echols drove Wallace home via a sacrifice fly to put the Gators in the lead with her 62nd RBI this season. Florida led 1-0 in the first inning.
Kentucky junior infielder Grace Lorsung singled through left field to start the top half of the second. Senior outfielder Rylea Smith pinch ran for Lorsung.
Harrison grounded out to second base, which advanced Smith to third, but a flyout from sophomore Hallie Mitchell failed to bring Smith home to end the top of the inning.
Schoonover and the Wildcats’ defense kept the Gators from extending their lead when Florida retired after three consecutive flyouts to end the second inning.
Coffel hit a single down the left field line, but a foul out from Kentucky sophomore outfielder Taylor Ebbs ended the top of the third with no runs scored. Schoonover then walked UF junior outfielder Katie Kistler to start the bottom, in which she advanced to second on a single to first base from Florida senior utility player Sarah Longley.
Schoonover gave up another walk to Wallace to load the bases, and advanced both Longley and Kistler, but Gators sophomore second baseman Reagan Walsh failed to bring in a run after she hit a fly out to left field to end the third inning.
Lorsung singled to shortstop and was caught out at second after Kentucky redshirt freshman Jenna Blanton reached on a fielder's choice. Harrison then homered to right-center field for her first home run of the season and scored in Blanton to take the lead against Florida 2-1 to end the top of the fourth.
UF freshman infielder Kaila Pollard homered to left-center field to tie up the game to two runs apiece in the bottom of the fourth.
“There was no hit bigger than that, an opposite field home run to come back 2-2, and get the confidence back in our dugout,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said.
Kistler then singled to left field to try and put up another run for Florida but Longley struck out swinging to end the inning.
Gators senior left-handed pitcher Rylee Trlicek replaced Hightower in the top of the fifth and didn’t give up any runs to Kentucky to end the half. Wallace led off the UF in the bottom half when she homered to right-center field to put Florida up 3-2.
Wildcats sophomore pitcher Alexia Lacatena replaced Schoonover after Wallace’s home run. A Falby single advanced her to third base after an Echols single. Walsh fouled out to left field but Falby made it to home plate in time to extend the Gators lead to 4-2.
UF graduate student utility player Pal Egan singled to center field and brought home Echols to push the lead to 5-2. Lacatena walked Pollard but she was caught out headed to second after Kistler reached on a fielder's choice to end the fifth inning.
Trlicek retired the side in order and left the Wildcats scoreless through the sixth inning. Wallace singled to third base and was brought home by Echols after she singled toward Lacatena in the circle to score her third run of the game before the end of the sixth inning.
Florida held onto its lead, 6-2, after Kentucky failed to score in the seventh.
UF will continue its time in the SEC Tournament as it advances to the quarterfinals where it will play No. 1 seed Tennessee at 11 a.m. Friday. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Alyssa Britton-Harr is a second-year journalism major and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys cheering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and spending time with her friends.