Softball

The Gators softball team dropped its series to Mississippi State.

The Florida softball team came into Saturday’s doubleheader needing to win both games against Mississippi State to not only win the series but to also have a chance at hosting a super regional.

The Gators (40-15, 12-12 SEC) split the doubleheader, dropping the first game 4-2 and winning the second one 2-0. Mississippi State scored its first series win in Gainesville since 2003, and now Florida could find itself on the road if it advances to a super regional.

The top eight teams in the RPI will each host a super regional, and the Gators came into the weekend in seventh. But another series loss could see them drop out of the top eight.

Florida’s 12 losses to SEC teams are the most it has had since 2006, when the Gators went 17-13 in Tim Walton’s first season. Its 12-12 record puts it in seventh place in the conference, though its final placement will depend on Sunday’s results.

UF’s final placement in the standings will decide its seed in the SEC Tournament in College Station, Texas, which starts on Wednesday.

Here’s how Saturday’s doubleheader went down:

 

Game 1

 

The Gators’ offensive struggles from Friday night carried into Saturday’s first game, and pitcher Kelly Barnhill had another rough outing in the 4-2 loss.

The game was scoreless until the top of the fourth inning.

Designated player Fa Leilua singled to lead off the inning. Center fielder Kat Moore brought her home with a two-run home run to right field for a 2-0 lead.

The Bulldogs (32-20, 9-15 SEC) tallied a run in each of the next two innings while freshman Grace Fagan shut down the Gators’ offense through six innings. UF’s batters made some decent contact throughout the game but couldn’t get on base or string together hits. The Gators stranded eight runners and hit just 1 for 7 (.143) with runners in scoring position.

Fagan gave up three hits and two earned runs, struck out six and walked five in 6.2 innings. Barnhill went 6.1 innings and gave up four earned runs on six hits and a walk with three strikeouts.

MSU took a 4-0 advantage into the bottom of the seventh and was an out away from an easy win when Fagan, much like pitcher Emily Williams the night before, lost control in the circle.

Fagan walked center fielder Alex Voss and first baseman Amanda Lorenz and then hit catcher Kendyl Lindaman with a pitch to load the bases. Williams then came in to relieve the freshman.

Left fielder Jaimie Hoover lined a 3-2 pitch off third base and into left field. The awkward bounce gave Voss and Lorenz enough time to score to reduce the lead to two.

However, Williams fanned designated player Jordan Roberts to close out a 4-2 win and a series win for MSU.

 

Game 2

 

The Gators recovered from the series-clinching loss earlier in the day with a 2-0 win in the final game of the series.

Freshman Elizabeth Hightower threw a complete-game shutout, the second of her career. She struck out three and allowed six hits plus one walk.

The Gators’ offense had more hits in the second game on Saturday (seven) than it had in the previous two games combined (five), but it didn’t break through until the bottom of the fifth inning.

Third baseman Hannah Sipos led off the inning with a double to right field. Two batters later, Lorenz walked, and Lindaman singled to load the bases.

The Bulldogs attempted to turn an inning-ending double play on a Hoover ground ball, but she beat the throw to first. Sipos scored, and MSU first baseman Sarai Niu couldn’t handle the throw, giving Lorenz enough time to score from second for a late 2-0 lead.

The closest Mississippi State came to scoring came in the sixth inning, when the Bulldogs had back-to-back singles with one out. However, Hightower retired the next two batters to end the threat.

The freshman opened the seventh inning with a strikeout and then forced two consecutive line outs to end the game and avoid a second sweep this season.

Follow Brendan Farrell on Twitter @Bfarrell727. Contact him at [email protected].