Elizabeth Hightower winds up a pitch in the Gators' exhibition against USA Softball. (Photo courtesy / @GatorsSB Twitter)

Gators Hit the Road for a Weekend Series at Mississippi State

The No. 5 Florida Gators (18-2) travel to Starkville to take on Mississippi State (15-8) in their first road SEC series. The series kicks off with game one on Friday at 7 p.m. on SEC Network+. The Gators enter with a 2-1 SEC record after winning their series against No. 9 Kentucky in Gainesville. The Bulldogs still have yet to notch their first SEC win after getting swept by Ole Miss.

Gators’ Form

The Gators have been rolling as of late, besting a previously undefeated Kentucky team at home and stomping North Dakota in a midweek showdown. In the 7-1 victory on Wednesday, Emily Wilkie blasted her first career grand slam, and Rylee Trlicek earned her first win of the season on four innings of work.

Although Florida’s starting rotation has been red hot, they rank near the bottom of the SEC in virtually every major hitting statistic. The Gators rank 10th in the league with a team .300 average and 12th in hits with 149. So, they’ll be looking to find some life at the plate this weekend.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Hightower and the Gators’ pitchers have more than made up for the team’s struggles at the plate. Hightower has held opposing batters to the lowest average in the country, with .118 and carries a 0.89 ERA.

As a team, the Gators sport a 1.14 ERA, good for third in the SEC. Not only do they top their own conference in pitching metrics, but the Gators boast one of the best statistic rotations in the country. They’re giving up the second-fewest hits in the nation with a minimum of 128 innings pitched.

Know Your Opponent

Mississippi State didn’t have an ideal start to SEC play in their series against Ole Miss. The Bulldogs only put up one run in three games against the Rebels, while giving up 18. With the series sweep, the Bulldogs now find themselves last in the SEC with an 0-3 record and carry the most overall losses in the conference with eight.

https://twitter.com/HailStateSB/status/1372919599511998464

MSU catcher Mia Davidson has been slashing at the plate this season, leading the Bulldogs with a .365 average, 27 hits and 23 runs. As a team, the Bulldogs lead the Gators in several hitting categories including average, slugging and on-base percentage.

But to this point, their pitching has let them down. The Bulldogs rank dead last in the SEC with a 3.32 ERA and 85 runs allowed. Annie Willis leads the Bulldogs with a 2.31 ERA, which would be the worst individual ERA for the Gators by over 0.7 points. (Natalie Lugo has the highest ERA for the Gators with 1.58.)

So, in order for the Bulldogs to find their first SEC win of the season, they’ll certainly have to reignite their starters and stifle the Gators’ bats.

Game Time

The series kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. and continues on Saturday at 3 and Sunday at noon. All three games will air on SEC Network+.

About Parker Fluke

I'm a third-year student at the University of Florida passionate about storytelling and sportswriting. My goal is to work in communications for a professional sports team after I graduate.

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