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PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Casey/UAA Communications

Gator Softball loses 8-4 to Ole Miss in extras on walk-off grand slam

Florida’s softball team (29-7; 3-5) will now have to wait one more day for the chance to win their first SEC series this season. That accomplishment just barely alluded them on Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi.

The Gators fell to Ole Miss 8-4 in extra innings in walk-off fashion. After Florida won Game 1 in extra innings, it was the Rebels’ (24-9; 5-3) that took advantage of their late opportunities this time.

After a back-and-forth, seven innings, junior DP/1B Abbey Latham (2-5, HR, 5 RBI) secured the victory for her team with a grand slam off Kelly Barnhill (19-4) in the bottom of the 8th inning.

The scene is now set for Sunday’s rubber match.

Tim Walton’s team was an out away in the 7th inning from their sixth straight win. On that occasion, Barnhill, who pitched a career-high 15 innings in Friday’s 5-2 win, forced in a run by plunking DP/C Autumn Gillespie.

In the end, the scoreline was harsh on the Gators. But they did commit three errors on the day, and their pitching staff was responsible for six free passes (3 HBP, 3 BB).

Barnhill and Rebels’ junior pitcher Molly Jacobsen have each pitched roughly 17 innings of work this series. One of them, if not both, will likely feature in Game 3.

Florida’s big fifth inning at the dish not enough

With Barnhill throwing 15 innings on Friday, and sophomore Natalie Lugo in the midst of a rough patch on the hill, surging freshman Elizabeth Hightower (5 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 3 K) got the start on Saturday.

However, some poor defense had her and the Gators down early. With two outs in the first inning, redshirt-junior SS Sophia Reynoso couldn’t handle a tough hop that led to the Rebels’ first run scoring from third.

Florida stranded the bases loaded in the first inning, but they didn’t have much brewing in the following two frames. In the bottom of the 3rd, Ole Miss extended their lead as Florida’s lackluster defense once again played a role.

Senior OF Kylan Becker advanced to third base on a throwing error after her RBI single doubled the Rebels’ lead. Lantham then collected her first RBI of the day with an RBI single that made it 3-0.

Until then, Florida’s offense was relatively silent. In the 5th inning, the power stroke arrived. Junior OF Jaimie Hoover led the inning off with a solo home run to left field.

Leadoff hitter Jade Caraway reached base via a walk, and two hitters later Amanda Lorenz would single to give C/DP Kendyl Lindaman a chance to hit with two runners aboard.

Lindaman proceeded to mash a three-run home run over left-center field off Rebels’ starter Jacobsen. Her ninth round-tripper in her last 11 games gave Florida a shocking 4-3 lead that they took into the 7th.

Barnhill struggles with command in late innings

Having stolen a lead on the road, Walton undoubtedly went back to his ace after Hightower completed five innings of work. Yet after a masterful performance on Friday (15 IP, 2 ER, 9 H, 17 K, 0 BB) and a clean first inning of relief today, her control faltered in the remaining proceedings.

A hit, a walk and her first HBP loaded the bases with nobody out for the Rebels’ 2-4 hitters. Barnhill then collected herself and managed to punch out Latham and sophomore Jessica Puk.

She simply let the first pitch of the game’s most crucial at-bat slip away.

In the game’s final frame, Barnhill once again found herself in a tough spot because of her issues with command. A hit and her last two walks forced her to pitch in the same situation as the previous frame — nobody out and the bags loaded.

Two hitters later and Latham served the first pitch she saw over the left field wall to end the Gators’ early bid for an SEC-series win.

What it means

Sunday’s series finale will be played at 1 p.m.

Maybe Walton himself knew the importance of snatching his team’s first SEC-series win. Especially on the road. His decision to go with Barnhill to close the game made this seem like a must-win ballgame.

Despite Barnhill’s struggles on Saturday (LP: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 HBP, 5 K), she remains Florida’s trusted workhorse.

At this point in the season, the Gators just need to polish certain aspects of their game if they wish to consistently beat the teams around the country that are as talented as they are.

Florida will travel back to Gainesville after the series finale for a midweek game against Florida State.

About Edgar Chavero

Sports media and management student at the University of Florida. Content creator for ESPN 98.1 FM/ 850 AM WRUF.

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