Natalie Lugo

Natalie Lugo

Three former Gators made the trip back to Gainesville last night in a different uniform.

Aubree Munro, Kelsey Stewart and Michelle Moultrie stepped out onto the diamond to greet their former coach Tim Walton.

Clad in red, white and a different shade of blue, the Florida alumni still received a warm welcome home. During team introductions, all three were greeted with a standing ovation. Fans of all ages erupted each time their names were said over the PA system. Spectators who sat in the old Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium to watch them play and little girls who wore diapers the last time they took the field at UF and now repped their own youth softball team jerseys were in attendance.

“To be able to hug them at home plate when they brought out the lineup card was really cool,” Walton said. “That was a different feeling, to be able to see players that you’ve seen grow up a lot, so that was a really special feeling.”

In an emotional exhibition game, Team USA defeated Florida, 5-3.

Senior Katie Chronister started in the circle for the Gators (4-1 regular season) but was relieved by junior Natalie Lugo after facing just four batters. Chronister allowed no hits and forced two ground outs in the first inning. Together, she and Lugo became the second pitching staff to hold the Women’s National Team (7-0 in its Stand Beside Her Tour) runless for the first two innings in their current tour.

The Gators went through five pitchers in seven innings: Chronister, Lugo, freshman Rylee Trlicek, and sophomores Danni Farley and Elizabeth Hightower.

Coming off of the fourth freshman no-hitter in program history, Trlicek allowed only one run in the fourth and fifth innings combined against Team USA. Farley’s second game of the 2020 season fared better than her first against then-No. 17 Michigan, as she and Hightower shut out the WNT in the sixth inning.

At the top of the third, however, the WNT made up for lost time, scoring four runs with two-RBI singles from Ali Aguilar and Hannah Flippen off Lugo. An RBI double by Aguilar allowed Janie Reed to score and extend the WNT’s lead to 5-0 over the Gators.

In the bottom of the fourth, Hannah Adams became the first Gator on base after an error by Stewart at third base. She then stole second but was left stranded after three consecutive outs by Team USA’s defense.

In the top of the sixth, senior Jaime Hoover produced Florida’s first hit of the night, with a bunt single off WNT pitcher Rachel Garcia, who took over for Monica Abbott after five perfect innings and 12 strikeouts.

Senior Kendyl Lindaman cracked a two-run home run late in the sixth — her second of the season — to trim Team USA’s lead down to three runs.

To close out the contest, Keilani Ricketts stepped into the circle for the WNT. After allowing two Gators on base (E.C. Taylor and Julia Cottrill), Garcia relieved her teammate and allowed a crucial run in the bottom of the seventh. An RBI double by redshirt freshman Bryn Thomas made it 5-3, setting the stage for a last-minute comeback for Florida.

However, Abbott made her way back onto the diamond and shut it down with two outs to seal the dub.

The Gators played the closest game of the Stand Beside Her Tour, surpassing Texas State’s previous mark of 5-2.

Munro talked about what it meant to play on her old college campus in a campaign designed to garner support for the game of softball and inspire future generations of softball players.

“It’s amazing,” Munro said. “I was the little girl watching in ‘04, so to be on the other side of it is really cool...It’s a really exciting time to be a woman in athletics right now. So, ‘Stand Beside Her’ — us, the female athletes; ‘Stand Beside Her’ — the little girl watching; and ‘Stand Beside’ our nation.”

Florida is back tonight for its second game of the week against the UNF Ospreys (2-2).

Follow Payton on Twitter @petitus25 and contact her at [email protected].

Payton Titus is a sports writer covering softball this season. She has also written for Swimming World Magazine, Inside the Gators and Chomp Talk.