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Monday, May 27, 2024

Florida softball gets back on track, defeats South Carolina in rubber match

The Gators defeated the Gamecocks 7-6, April 21

Korbe Otis does the Gator chomp before Florida softball's matchup with Oklahoma State on Feb. 20. Photo by Ryan Friedenberg
Korbe Otis does the Gator chomp before Florida softball's matchup with Oklahoma State on Feb. 20. Photo by Ryan Friedenberg

After a disappointing 11-13 record in SEC play in 2023, the Gators softball team had questions to answer coming into the 2024 campaign. With an entirely new pitching staff and coach, Florida hoped to improve its worst aspect of last season.

Those issues were resolved early. Behind the pitching staff, Florida found early success, winning four straight SEC series including a home series against the No. 7 Louisiana State Tigers.

However, UF suffered its first conference series loss on the road to the Missouri Tigers April 11-13.

On April 21, it looked as if it might suffer another SEC series loss, this time to the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Despite a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Florida right-handed pitcher Keagan Rothrock surrendered five runs on six hits in the circle. Rothrock had led the Gators in the circle all year, coming into the game with a 2.13 ERA and an 18-5 record.

Graduate student pitcher Mackenzie Wooten subbed in for Rothrock with no outs and trailing 5-2 in the top of the fourth inning. Wooten had just 8.1 innings of work before entering April 21, and she allowed just one run off two hits during her outing.

“I know my job is to get out there and throw quality pitches to keep us in the game,” Wooten said. “Today, I knew we were going to break through, and it was just my job to get us to that point.”

Walton said he didn’t have many expectations for Wooten coming in, but she’s worked at improving, understanding location, throwing hard and changing between three speeds. It showed April 21.

With Wooten keeping the Gators in the game, the offense delivered an explosive fourth inning frame, scoring four runs on five hits to take back the lead 6-5. The inning was highlighted by a two-run home run from freshman third baseman Ariel Kowaleski and an RBI triple from junior center fielder Kendra Falby.

“We knew we were right there and we just needed to keep fighting,” sophomore catcher Jocelyn Erickson said. “We’ve had games earlier in the season where we fight to get on top, and it was good to have that again.”

The Gamecocks tied the game in the top of the sixth, and the two teams were knotted at six runs each heading to the bottom half of the inning. Junior left fielder Korbe Otis led off the inning with her 42nd walk of the season.

Otis leads the team in walks and has the highest on-base percentage at 0.592.

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“She’s a tough, competitive fiery,” head coach Tim Walton said. “Her on-base percentage is sick — then again, she’s a good teammate and softball player.”

Then, with two outs, Erickson smashed a double to left-center field, and Otis used her speed to score from first base.

South Carolina attempted to capitalize with one last chance in the top of the seventh. It had two runners on base and one out in the inning. But freshman Ava Brown stayed composed in the circle, forcing a ground out and an infield pop-up to end the game.

“I told them we have to play better softball and by ‘we’ being the team,” Walton said. “It’s not about us, it’s about them. They have to play better, communicate better and appreciate little things better amongst each other.”

Next, Florida will step out of conference play for a midweek contest against in-state rival Florida State at 6 p.m. April 24 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Contact Hailey Hurst at Follow her on Twitter @haileyjhurst.

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Hailey Hurst

Hailey Hurst is a second-year journalism major with a focus in sports media and a sports reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she enjoys going to the beach and cheering for Miami sports teams.

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