Despite all the noise surrounding the Gators’ Softball team’s newly renovated stadium, Florida’s had to remain focused on the road to start the season.
Tim Walton’s team traveled to Tempe, Arizona for the start of the Littlewood Classic on Friday. The Gators began the tournament in fine fashion by first beating Illinois State 2-1. Then they took care of the tournament’s host, as an offensive explosion led by Amanda Lorenz gave the Gators a 7-2 victory over No. 14 Arizona State.
Eleven of the Gators’ first 13 games this season will come on the road. They’ll travel back home after that for a six-game homestand.
But Walton’s team is beginning to make a home of Tempe. On Friday they showed that this team could be capable of winning ball games in many different ways.
While the Gators’ bats finally woke up in the night game to the tune of seven runs, it was pitcher Natalie Lugo’s dominant performance against Illinois State that kept them in the game.
Lugo leads Gators past Illinois State in Game 1
While the Illinois State Redbirds are still searching for their win this season (0-8), they came pretty close to earning it on Friday. The Gators pummeled them 15-0 to start the season, but there would be no blowout whatsoever this time around.
Florida’s only offense in the day game came in the second inning. Shortstop Sophia Reynoso was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to open the scoring. Subsequently, an RBI groundout by third baseman Hannah Sipos proved to be the only insurance run the Gators would need.
Lugo would keep the Redbirds off the scoreboard until the top of the sixth inning. The only batter she walked on the day ended up scoring on an RBI double from Shannon Felde with two outs.
All-SEC senior Kelly Barnhill then struck out the side in the seventh to give the Gators a one-run win on the road. It was her third save of the season.
While Lugo wasn’t particularly overpowering, she induced nine ground ball outs to go along with her six strikeouts. She was able to carve out six innings of work on an economical 80 pitches to improve to 2-0.
Lorenz powers Gators to big win in Game 2
The night game was a different ball game. Both team’s offenses were looking to get going early. Lorenz led off the game by blasting a solo home run to right center field.
But after closing the first game, Arizona State was able to score a couple early runs off starter Barnhill to keep the game close. Kindra Hackbarth rounded the bases in the second inning after a solo home run, and Morgan Howe tied the game at 2-2 in the third with an RBI double.
Lorenz clobbered her second home run of the day in the fourth inning. Then Barnhill settled down nicely. She was handed a five-run cushion in the fifth inning when the Gators managed to score four runs in that frame.
Second baseman Hannah Adams led off the fifth with a solo shot herself. Then the Gators’ hitters ironically didn’t have to take the bat off their shoulders to keep extending their lead. Three more runs would come around to score after two hitters were hit by pitches — another was walked — with the bases load.
What it Means
Both of the Gators starters were sensational on Friday. Lugo was able to keep hitters in check in the first game, while Barnhill collected a season-high 14 strikeouts in the latter.
The bats didn’t get going until later on in the night, but Walton will be happy that his starters are providing him with plenty of innings early in the season.
Now Florida will prepare for yet another doubleheader on Saturday. First up is a game with San Diego University at 1:30 p.m. ET.
That’ll be followed by a bout against Utah State at 6:30 ET. The Gators will round up the Littlewood Classic with a game on Sunday against Central Michigan before heading to Jacksonville.