Ranked No. 22 in the country and seeded eighth in the Southeastern Conference, the Florida Gators (36-20, 11-13 SEC) started strong in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
UF defeated the No. 9 Seed Kentucky Wildcats (30-20-1, 10-14 SEC) with a four-run lead, 6-2, to advance despite the game having been pushed to Thursday due to weather delays in Fayetteville, Arkansas, May 10.
Gators redshirt junior infielder Skylar Wallace changed the game's momentum when she hit her 19th home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. The SEC Player of the Year's homer put Florida back in the lead and was followed by two consecutive runs scored to end the inning.
"You can tell by the energy our team played with today that they want to keep playing," Gators head coach Tim Walton said. "They enjoy playing softball, and they want to keep going."
However, UF missed its chance at the SEC Championship after the No. 1 seed Tennessee Volunteers (44-8, 19-5 SEC) shut them out in the quarterfinals May 12.
The Gators only notched three hits through seven innings and were held scoreless by Tennessee junior pitcher Ashley Rogers on their way to the loss.
Heading into the next round of play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Regionals, Florida will face Loyola Marymount on the road in Palo Alto, California.
The Loyola Marymount Lions (27-20, 12-3 WCC) finished its season with a game high of runs scored at the start of the season in February against the University of San Diego Toreros.The Lions also split a doubleheader with the Toreros in an 8-0 win and a 7-2 loss.
Loyola Marymount was still named the winner of the West Coast Conference despite its loss in game two.
The Gators will face the Lions’ leading batter Sydney Poole, who holds the highest batting average on the team with a .333 record. UF will also take on LMU’s best overall player in Morgan DeBord, who leads the team in multiple categories, including a slugging percentage of .622, 34 runs scored and nine home runs to end the regular season.
The first game in the regional will be between Stanford and Long Beach State May 19. The winner will play against either Florida or Loyola Marymount May 20.
UF won on the road last year in the super regionals to get to the College Softball World Series. The Gators will be on the road their entire postseason run facing tough teams such as Stanford, who have a top-10 defense and a complete pitching staff boasting an average 1.52 earned run average.
"Knowing that we can compete with those pitchers and, you know, go into war with them, I think, sets a really good tone for us," Wallace said. "It's going to be a grind, it's not going to be easy, but we're prepared and ready for it."
Florida will begin its journey in the NCAA Regionals at 6 p.m. May 19. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
Contact Alyssa Britton-Harr at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @abrittonharr.
Alyssa Britton-Harr is a first-year journalism major and the softball reporter for The Aligator. When not writing, you can see her cheering on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, going to country concerts, and spending time with her friends.