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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Florida looks ahead into NCAA regionals after SEC tournament win

The Gators will compete against Florida Gulf Coast at noon Friday for the first round of the Gainesville Regional

Florida softball freshman right-handed pitcher Keagan Rothrock pitches the ball in the Gators' loss to Oklahoma State on Monday, February 19, 2024.
Florida softball freshman right-handed pitcher Keagan Rothrock pitches the ball in the Gators' loss to Oklahoma State on Monday, February 19, 2024.

The No. 11 ranked Florida softball team captured the No. 2-seed in the SEC, laying its foundations early into the SEC tournament to ring in on top as the 2024 Champions. 

“I said [before] this team’s got a chance,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said. “We’re on the up, and definitely been inching our way up to be SEC Champions.” 

The win also titled Walton with the most SEC Championships as a head coach in league history with six.    

UF defeated the No. 7-seed Georgia in the quarterfinals early Friday and capped off a 2-0 victory for the day after its 7-3 win over the No. 3-seed Texas A&M Friday evening. The Gators then advanced to their 10th SEC Tournament Championship behind a game with nine total hits, five walks and a pair of home runs. 

Freshman right-handed pitcher Keagan Rothrock turned in her 20th complete-game performance against the Aggies and struck out six batters without allowing a walk. The freshman kept her composure in the circle and stayed hot in her SEC Tournament debut. 

“Keagan mechanically spends so much time perfecting her craft,” Walton said. “Not by just how she pitches, but I think you are seeing her learn how to compete through this league.”

Another standout freshman, second baseman Mia Williams, worked her magic behind the plate as she stepped up to bat and worked a 3-1 count off Aggies’ junior starting pitcher Emily Leavitt. 

As her eyes met the ball, she launched the next pitch into the air and to the top of the scoreboard earning her fourth home run of the season to give the Gators an early 3-0 lead over TAMU. 

“Trying to keep it simple and just play the ball I know how to play,” Williams said. “Specifically that home run, I was doing a little bit of self-talk… and telling myself to trust my hands and let the ball get deep.”

A current nominee on the SEC All-Tournament Team selections, redshirt senior shortstop Skylar Wallace, is at the top of the list for MVP. Wallace powered through Game 2 against the Aggies and utilized her momentum to belt her 13th home run of the season, extending the Gators lead to 5-0. 

TAMU was able to break through in the fourth inning and cut into the Gators lead bringing the score to 5-2 with a pair of unearned runs. However, it wasn't enough to make a comeback in which Florida closed out the game with two more runs scored. 

UF secured its sixth SEC Championship with a 6-1 victory over the No. 5-seeded Missouri Tigers May 11 at Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn, Alabama. Rothrock turned in her second consecutive complete-game performance to seal the victory for Florida. 

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The freshman held Missouri to just six hits over seven innings of work, allowing two walks to her six strikeouts. The Gators took an early 3-0 lead with the help of Williams as she cleared the bases with her fifth home run of the season. This time, a 296-foot home run that flew over the Auburn scoreboard.

The Tigers attempted to battle back from the Gators’ early success after putting a pair of runners on base, but the speed of junior Kendra Falby saved what could have been two runs with an athletic play made over the shoulder for a catch at the wall. 

UF went on to extend its lead to 6-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning when Wallace notched her third home run of the tournament. 

“Trusting in my teammates [and] my preparation, that’s all I really lean back on,” Wallace said. “That’s all I really lean back on, and it keeps me grounded knowing that everything is going to work out in some way.”

In an effort to respond, Missouri was able to draw a hit by a pitch and a walk, but senior first baseman Avery Goelz shut down the rally when she grabbed the line drive and tagged the runner to end the game. 

“We're not done yet, we got work to do,” Wallace said. “We’re going to celebrate this one, take it all in and then come back tomorrow and Monday and reset and get after it again.”

Next, UF will host Florida Gulf Coast, Florida Atlantic and South Alabama in the NCAA Gainesville Regional. The Gators will compete in the first round against FGCU at noon Friday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. 

Contact Alyssa Britton-Harr at Follow her on X @abrittonharr

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Alyssa Britton-Harr

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. 

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