After two ranked wins over No. 5-ranked Arizona and No. 25-ranked Northwestern, respectively, on Friday afternoon, Tim Walton and Florida softball are feeling good.
After two tight contests that both resulted in 3-2 wins, the Gators (14-1) can consider themselves battle tested. However, the Gators’ battles are still uphill as they prepare for day two of the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs, California.
#7 Florida vs #16 Arizona State — 5:30 p.m. ET
The last time the Gators and the Sun Devils met was on Feb. 15, 2019. And interestingly, the two teams’ rankings were very similar.
From the Littlewood Classic in Tempe, Arizona, last February, the then-ranked No. 9 Gators and the then-ranked No. 16 Sun Devils met on the dirt of Farrington Softball Stadium. There, Florida routed Arizona State 7-2 behind 14 strikes from Kelly Barnhill and a combined four home runs off of the bats of Amanda Lorenz (2) and Hannah Adams (2).
However, it has been said time and time again that this Florida Gator roster doesn’t feature the names of Kelly Barnhill and Amanda Lorenz. But as of lately, the Gators have proved that that’s okay.
Maturation in the circle
Heading into the 2020 campaign, questions surrounding Florida’s pitching staff had been plentiful.However, game in and game out, those questions are finding their answers.
Junior righty Natalie Lugo and southpaw rookie Rylee Trlicek have been the primary talents in the circle for the Gators. And each have come into their own.
On Friday, Trlicek went the distance against the fifth best softball team in America and struck out the NCAA’s best hitter (on paper) in Arizona’s Jessie Harper. Harper, who notched two home runs in Arizona’s exhibition against Team USA, was intentionally walked twice before being sent back to her dugout after a clutch strikeout from Trlicek in the seventh inning.
And while Natalie Lugo started in the chalk against Northwestern in game two on Friday, after taking a hit to the inner-knee, Trlicek entered the scoreless game in the fifth inning and was credited with the win.
Trlicek and Lugo both maintain a sub-2.0 ERA through 15 games.
Scouting the Sun Devils
Like the Gators, Arizona State (12-2) is also undefeated in the Mary Nutter Classic. Their opening slate included games against San Diego and New Mexico. And with the help of hot bats, the Sun Devils thumped both of Friday’s opponents with a combined score of 29-2.
The most glaring stat from the Sun Devils’ first two games this weekend is their eight, yes… eight, home runs.
On Friday, the Sun Devils had seven different hitters launch balls out of the yard. Freshman Jazmine Hill tallied two homers, one in each game, on Friday.
On the season, Arizona State has totaled 23 home runs.
Defensively, Madison Preston (4-0) and Cielo Meza (5-1) lead the way in the circle. Both pitchers hold sub-2.0 ERAs on the year. Preston maintains a 1.22 ERA and Meza chases with a 1.74.
#7 Florida vs #1 UCLA — 8:30 p.m. ET
The heavyweight. The revenge opportunity. The big one.
Coming into this weekend, the Gators had their game against UCLA (12-0) circled. The Bruins, who are the defending national champions, have been everything but flawed this season. And Tim Walton’s Gators have dropped their last three matchups against UCLA.
While preseason-No. 1 Alabama holds a sub-.500 record through nine games and other contenders in Washington (#2) and Oklahoma (#3) have dropped contests, UCLA remains perfect.
Truth be told, not much. The Bruins have outscored their opponents 111-14 and are without a doubt the most complete team in America.
As a lineup, UCLA is averaging .409 with 20 home runs and just 35 strikeouts through 320 at-bats.
Meanwhile, defensively, the Bruins have faced 269 at-bats — 95 of which have ended in strikeouts. Additionally, UCLA has held oppontents to a .218 on-base percentage. None of which would be possible without their pair of elite pitchers.
UCLA’s Megan Faraimo is 7-0 through 44 innings pitched. The sophomore and reining PAC 12 freshman of the year is holding an astounding ERA of just .80. Faraimo has struck out 68 batters, while giving up just 26 hits and seven runs.
Her comrade, Holly Azevedo, chases Faraimo with a 4-0 record and 20 strikeouts. Azevedo’s .70 ERA and opposing batter’s average of .186 makes it as though the Bruins have two aces.
The Gators will have to build on their recent offensive success in Saturday’s showdown versus UCLA.
In the preseason, Walton vowed that the 2020 Gators would be more entertaining to watch and hit-heavy. And thus far, he has all but lied.
Formerly known for their hard-nosed defense, a shift in play style now has Florida regarded as one of the most electric offenses in the country. Florida’s .357 team batting average ranks third in the country — right on the heels of the second-ranked Bruins.
At the center of the Gators’ offensive success is three-hole hitter Charla Echols. Ranking third in the nation in hits, her tally of 20 is just one off of the leader. And while it’s easy to be overshadowed by Echols’ impressive numbers, others in Florida’s lineup are having just as much success.
Namely, Kendyl Lindaman. With an RBI-single against Arizona and a solo-home run against Northwestern on Friday, Lindaman’s hit streak now stretches to 14 games.
Leadoff-hitter Hannah Adams is also coming into her own as of recent. On Friday, her contributions in both games can’t be understated. With a lead-gaining home run against Arizona and the walk-off single to beat Northwestern, Adams’ confidence is sure to be sky-high. Her, Echols and Lindaman have reached base safely in 15 consecutive games.
— Tom Laffey (@tomlaffey) February 22, 2020
Catch the action
Both games will be streamed on FloSoftball.com ($). Additionally, WGGG 92.1 FM/123o AM and WMOP 100.1 FM/900 AM will broadcast the games locally with Ryan Urquhart on the call.
You can also be kept up to date on Twitter by way of Florida softball’s Twitter @GatorsSB and WRUF’s Twitter @ESPNGainesville.