Charla Echols and the number six Florida softball team win their first two games of the 2021 season on Saturday, beating USF twice.
Close Season Opener
Tim Walton’s Gators entered the game as the number six team in the nation. This Gator team has a wealth of talent across the board, but that depth struggled in the season opener.
While everything was going smooth in the first inning, the hot bats quickly cooled.
Jordan Matthews opened the scoring with a two-run double, and the Gators pushed it to a three-run lead through a Baylee Goddard single.
The difference was USF starting pitcher Georgina Corrick. Arguably South Florida’s most dynamic player, Corrick came into the game on USA Softball’s watchlist for 2021 Collegiate Player of the Year. After the tough first inning, Corrick locked in and held the Gators scoreless.
In the bottom of the third, the Bulls turned a two-run game into a tie courtesy of a Brooke Hartman home run.
The game turned to a pitching duel between Corrick and the Gators’ Natalie Lugo and Katie Chronister.
While Corrick cracks USA Softball’s list, Tim Walton coaches two members of that watchlist as well in Kendyl Lindaman and Charla Echols.
Echols was the difference maker in the season opener. In the top of the seventh inning, the Preseason All-SEC third-baseman smacked a two-run double deep to center field. Echols herself scored on a Julia Cottrill single to give the Gators a 6-3 lead in the final frame.
Chronister put the game to bed with a 1-2-3 inning.
Corrick pitched well for USF but suffered the loss; she finished the game with nine strikeouts.
The Gators managed 10 hits, but struggled getting the ball into the outfield. However, Echols and Matthews came up with crucial hits to provide the Gators an opening-game win.
Dominant Game Two
Game two of the Saturday doubleheader started in a similar fashion to the first one. The talented bats at the top of Florida’s lineup provided a three-run lead for Gator starting pitcher Elizabeth Hightower.
However, if the first game was a case of season-opening jitters at the plate, all those concerns evaporated by the time the second game rolled around. Kendyl Lindaman had an RBI-double in the first inning, and followed that up with another RBI in the second inning.
Not to be outdone by her preseason All-SEC teammate, Charla Echols one-upped Lindaman with a three-run home run in the second inning.
The Gators did not stop at the 10-0 lead they had after three.
At the end of the game, the Gators distanced themselves to a 15-0 victory that concluded after five innings.
Elizabeth Hightower received credit for the win with her one-hit outing before giving way to Rylee Trlicek. Hightower finished her outing with 4.0 innings pitched, only giving up one hit and one walk.
Echols steals the show
Charla Echols came into the 2021 season with expectations galore. She blew those expectations out of the water in this game.
Let’s keep it in perspective. It is the first day of a new season. It is more likely than not that she will return to the mean, but she gave the Gator Nation a glimpse at what she can bring to this squad. Any time someone completes a doubleheader with the following stat line, people should remember the name.
6 for 6 at the plate with six RBI, a double, a triple a homer, a walk, and four runs scored.
Every time Echols stepped to the plate, she got on base. It might be safe to say the softball world is watching what Echols does from here on out. She will have a chance to build on her explosive start to the season when the Gators and Bulls finish out their season-opening series on Sunday.
First pitch is set for 1 p.m. with TV coverage on ESPN+ and radio coverage on ESPN 98.1 FM – 850 AM WRUF.