Natalie Lugo stepped out of the circle and was greeted by an elated crowd of her teammates after pitching the first solo complete-game of her career in which she no-hit the Dolphins.
But after they all started making their way inside, Lugo stayed behind, caught up talking to two little girls in the left corner of the stadium. With a blinding grin, she took a softball from each girl, whose hands were so small they had to use both to hold them, and scribbled her signature in between the laces
“It’s just so surreal,” the junior said about the interaction. “And you just see their eyes light up when they see us or when we wave, ‘Hi,’ back at them running into the dugout. It’s just so heartwarming.”
Ever since Florida’s (12-1) fateful outing against then-No. 17 Michigan, where Lugo allowed a season-high five runs, the junior has settled into her own, allowing one run in 18.2 innings heading into tonight’s matchup.
In tonight’s 8-0 victory over JU (7-4), she pitched five innings, allowed zero hits and zero runs.
While coach Tim Walton says he would like to distinguish Lugo as the ace for the remainder of the 2020 campaign, he says he feels like he can’t make that definitive decision in good conscious — yet.
“As good as she was tonight, and as good as she was against FAMU on Sunday in relief and as good as she was against North Dakota on Friday night, my big thing is just being able to continue to string that together,” Walton said. “She’s been proven to beat a lot of really good hitting teams. Could she beat the great hitting teams? We’re going to find out this weekend.”
In gearing up to travel back home to the West coast for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic this weekend, the West Covina, California, native explained how it’s the energy from her teammates that drives her pitching performance.
“It comes mostly from my teammates,” Lugo said. “Having Sophia (Reynoso) and Hannah (Adams) and Kendyl (Lindaman) and Charla (Echols) and then Jordan (Matthews) of course…they keep me lighthearted and in a good mood if something’s not working.”
Sophomore Charla Echols and senior Kendyl Lindaman dominated on offense as they have all season, hitting Florida’s first back-to-back home runs of the year at the bottom of the first to put the Gators up 3-0.
As is the trend with this squad, once they opened the floodgates, there was no slowing its bats down.
While they had no runs in the second inning, the Gators scored one run in the third and three in the fourth to cement their seventh run-rule victory of the season, which is just over half of their games, and secure a homestand sweep to start the season.
The Gators will be back on the diamond to play No. 5 Arizona in Palm Springs, California, Friday at 3:30 p.m. EST.
Follow Payton Titus on Twitter @petitus25. Contact her at [email protected].