For the second day in a row the No. 3/5 Florida Gator softball team found itself down 4-0 early, but unlike Saturday afternoon, the comeback fell just short and Florida fell 5-4.
The Gators (42-10, 12-9) sent their ace, senior Hannah Rogers, to the circle for her second start of the weekend and unfortunately she found the same result in both appearances. The 2014 Senior CLASS award finalist came into this series with a 21-6 overall record and hadn’t recorded a loss since April 2nd against the Florida State Seminoles. On Friday night Rogers threw a complete game giving up five runs on10 hits. Rogers struck out three and threw 99 pitches in Florida’s 5-3 loss.
On Sunday it was a similar stat line for the senior as Rogers threw yet another complete game, giving up five runs on six hits. Rogers also walked two batters and struck out one as her pitch count rose over the century mark to 114. The No. 15/17 Missouri Tigers (38-13, 14-7) started hot once again as redshirt sophomore Sami Fagan and sophomore Emily Crane singled with one out in the first. Senior Mackenzie Sykes followed with a walk and with the bases loaded junior Corrin Genovese belted a grand slam to dead center to give the Tigers a 4-0 lead.
Just one inning later, freshman Casey Stangel drove a first pitch fastball from Rogers over the fence in right center and the Tigers seemed to be in clear control with a 5-0 lead. Despite the deficit, it was at this moment the Gator ace seemed to get comfortable in the circle; Rogers would give up just two hits the rest of the game and keep the Tigers at bay.
Down 5-0 heading into the bottom half of the second, the Gator offense knew it needed to produce and they delivered, but it wasn’t in the most likely of ways. Thanks to their ability to battle and be patient at the plate the Gators found some success. Similar to Rogers, Tiger freshman pitcher Tori Finucane received her second start of the weekend Sunday afternoon. In her start opposite Rogers on Friday night Finucane got the W throwing all seven innings giving up just three runs on four hits. The freshman struck out six Gators and that success carried over into the rubber match.
With a 5-0 lead entering the bottom half of the second, Finucane was looking to cruise but it was her own mistakes that led to trouble. Junior Lauren Haeger began the inning for Florida reaching on an error followed by a walk from junior Briana Little. Finucane’s first wild pitch of the inning would move both runners up and a walk from sophomore Taylore Fuller would load the bases. Sophomore Aubree Munro was issued the third walk of the inning for the Gators plating Haeger and Finucane’s second wild pitch of the inning would plate Little. A passed ball would score Fuller a couple batters later and the Gators were back in the ball game without recording a hit.
The Gators wouldn’t receive that first hit until senior Stephanie Tofft singled up the middle in the third and it was at this point another problem for Florida arose. The Gators would leave three base runners on in the third, one in the fourth, three more in the fifth and two more in the seventh. Despite some great at-bats throughout the game, Florida coach Tim Walton said the inability to score in the key moments really hurt the team.
“We weren’t able to get any clutch hits. We had some good at-bats but none of the big hits to get the RBI’s.”
Similar to Rogers, Finucane would settle down as the game went along. Finucane would have another huge jam in the fifth as the Gators loaded the bases with no outs, but managed just one run. The Gators would put forth one last ditch effort as Little doubled with one out in the bottom of the seventh and a two out infield single from Fuller would put runners on the corners, but the Gators just could not plate the run they needed.
The loss would give the Gators their first series defeat since the end of March in Knoxville against the Tennessee Volunteers and their third on the season. The Gators will now end the regular season with a three game set in Fayetteville against the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Razorbacks will enter the series with a 5-16 record in the SEC but Walton says they are a better team than their record shows.
“It’s a big series. Arkansas has a lot of good offensive numbers and they’ve lost a lot of tough games. They’ve got a really good offense and they’ve given us trouble in the past. I think it’s going to be a tough series for us.”
The first game of the series will be on Friday with first pitch set for 7pm.
For post-game audio of Head Coach Tim Walton and senior Stephanie Tofft click on the links below: