Gators players watched with hats inside-out, cleats on shoulders and just about every small superstition possible in the Florida dugout with a chance to win a Sunshine State showdown at home with bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning.
That chance quickly diminished as a hit by UF graduate student third baseman Charla Echols popped the ball into the pitch black sky and into the glove of the catcher at home plate.
The No. 16 Florida Gators (34-17, 10-11 SEC) lost to the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles (44-8, 19-2 ACC) 8-7 in UF’s last regular season game at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium Wednesday. Despite only recording six hits in the loss against their in-state rivals, the Gators homered three times to keep the game close.
However, UF didn’t control the Seminoles who hit 11 times throughout the evening.
Florida sophomore pitcher Lexie Delbrey started in the Gators’ last homestead of the regular season. The right-hander walked Florida State redshirt sophomore outfielder Jahni Kerr but allowed no hits through the opening frame.
Seminoles senior pitcher Mack Leonard faced UF redshirt junior infielder Skylar Wallace to start the bottom of the first.
Leonard walked Wallace to open the frame. Wallace took advantage of Leonard’s poor pitching and stole second and third base off two wild pitches.
Echols grounded out to second base, but the FSU infielders weren’t able to catch Wallace at home plate. UF led 1-0 after the first inning.
Florida State’s batters woke up in the top of the second inning. Seminoles junior infielder Devyn Flaherty singled to right field after Delbrey walked FSU sophomore outfielder Hallie Wacaser.
Delbrey put herself in a difficult situation after she walked Florida State graduate student infielder Bethaney Keen to load the bases. The sophomore pitcher later hit Seminole sophomore infielder Krystina Hartley, which allowed Wacaser to walk home.
Two singles and two outs later, FSU took its first lead of the game midway through the second inning.
Leonard kept Florida from getting past first base in the bottom of the inning through four batters. She struck out two Gators’ swinging in the half — including UF senior utility player Sarah Longley to end the second.
Delbrey — who pitched through 2.1 innings — didn’t find any salvation in the top of the third. Leonard and Florida State sophomore catcher Michaela Edenfield singled to start the inning.
Florida senior pitcher Rylee Trlicek replaced Delbry following a walk. Bases were loaded once again with one out in the top of the third. The left-handed pitcher survived the inning and collected two outs without giving up a run.
Gators sophomore outfielder Kendra Falby singled to get UF’s offense back on track to start the bottom of the third. Echols reached second base after an out due to an error in the infield. The Seminoles’ mistake also gave Falby room to run past two bases and score.
Deep into the bottom of the inning, Florida had bases loaded against FSU with only one out. The Gators took advantage with a UF graduate student utility player Pal Egan walk that tied the game at three. Florida State followed the walk with two outs to end the third.
Trlicek — despite giving up two singles in the top of the fourth inning — found a way to disallow a Seminoles run, and struck out Edenfield swinging to end the top of the fourth.
FSU junior pitcher Allison Royalty replaced Leonard in the bottom of the inning. She forced two straight outs, but Wallace stopped the cycle and homered to right field to restore Florida’s lead.
Florida State didn’t look the same after the dinger. Royalty walked Echols and the Seminoles watched a ground ball by UF sophomore infielder Reagan Walsh as it bounced off Flaherty’s glove at second base to put two Gators out on the diamond.
FSU caught a break as Wilkie flied out to left-center field to end the fourth inning.
Florida’s .975 fielding percentage showcased itself to open the fifth inning. Walsh dove toward a ball that pierced between second and first base and made a diving grab for the first out of the inning.
The show was interrupted by a Wacaser single and a Flaherty double to put Florida State in scoring position.
Seminoles sophomore catcher Katie Dack barely hit a fair ball on the first base line, but the ball rolled fair toward the left field wall. Two runs scored before Gators junior outfielder Avery Goelz could reach it.
Kerr followed the single with a two-run double to pad the lead before Florida State left the top of the inning. The hit was enough for UF head coach Tim Walton to walk out to the circle and make a change.
Florida graduate student pitcher Elizabeth Hightower replaced Trlicek and was able to retire the top of the inning. FSU led 7-4.
Royalty’s first pitch of the bottom of the fifth hit Egan. The JUCO talent advanced to second base off a bunt from Gators sophomore catcher Sam Roe — which was picked up and thrown out at first.
Longley launched a sky-high two-run homer. The runs marked UF’s 110th and 111th runs that came via home run this season.
The Seminoles left the fifth inning with a 7-6 lead.
Hightower walked Edenfield on a full count to begin the sixth inning with the stadium encased in the night sky. FSU sophomore infielder Amaya Ross pinch-ran for Edenfield and found herself all the way to third base after a wild pitch.
Leonard flew out to the infield and gave Ross enough time to score the only run of the top of the inning. Florida ended the inning with two consecutive outs, but Florida State pushed its lead to 8-6 midway through the sixth inning.
Wallace answered the run with her second home run of the game. It beelined to left-center field to close the gap to 8-7 on the first at-bat in the bottom of the sixth.
Royalty hit Echols following the Wallace home run and was replaced by Seminoles freshman pitcher Makenna Reid in the circle. The Oregon native and FSU’s defense produced three-straight outs to end the inning.
Hightower stepped up in the clutch defensively and forced three straight outs to bring the Gators to the bottom of the seventh inning with a chance for a comeback victory.
UF’s last attempt for a victory started with a single by Roe. Two outs later, Falby singled to left field and advanced Roe to second. Bases turned loaded as Reid walked Wallace in fear of a home run.
With Echols at-bat — with a chance to win the game with a hit — popped the ball above Edenfield at home plate and was caught out to end the night.
Florida will travel to Lexington, Kentucky, to face the Wildcats for its last three-game series of the regular season starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The game will be streamed 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.