Natalie Lugo pitches against Kentucky. The senior picked up her fourth win of the season as the Gators won the game 3-1. (Photo Credit: @GatorsSB / Twitter)

Gators Softball takes on UCF in top-25 matchup

A matchup pitting two top-25 teams is on the horizon for Tim Walton’s Florida Gators Softball team. The No. 5 Gators travel down to Orlando to take on the No. 22 UCF Golden Knights in a midweek matchup.

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You do not get top-25 games in college softball with mediocre play. Both teams enter Wednesday night’s contest with exceptional records, and that comes after playing similar teams.

Florida and UCF played similar opponents earlier in the season including Kennesaw State, UNF, McNeese State and New Mexico State. Against these mutual opponents, UCF holds a record of 10-2, while Florida is 4-0.

Also, both teams are coming off-road series against SEC opposition, but with different results.

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

The Gators pounded Mississippi State in their three-game series in Starkville. Over the course of the series, the Gators combined for 19 runs while conceding zero. The dominance in the circle earned Elizabeth Hightower SEC Pitcher of the Week honors. Hightower is the second Gator to earn that recognition this season.

Prior to their four-game win streak, the Gators dropped back-to-back games against Kentucky and Team USA. It is safe to say they righted the ship against the Bulldogs.

UCF played a tougher opponent this past weekend, traveling to Columbia to play South Carolina. The Golden Knights lost both games in their doubleheader on Saturday but picked up a comfortable consolation win in Sunday’s matchup.

Wednesday’s matchup is each team’s sixth game against ranked opposition. Florida’s record in those games is 3-2, and UCF is 2-3. However, in those two wins, the Golden Knights picked up their biggest win of the season. UCF edged No. 2 Arizona 2-0 in early March.

The Golden Knights play to their opponents, so expect a close game in this midweek matchup.

Scouting the Matchup

Gianna Mancha looks over to the bench for UCF. Mancha boasts a 1.66 ERA entering UCF’s matchup against Florida. (Photo Credit: @UCF_Softball / Twitter)

Dominant pitching is a hallmark of this Gators team. However, unlike teams of years past, it is a team effort. There is no one pitcher that plays nearly every game for Tim Walton’s club. Rather, a mix of Elizabeth Hightower, Natalie Lugo, Katie Chronister and even Rylee Trlicek shut down opposing offenses. These Gators pitchers yield an impressive 3.61 hits per game, which is good for the fourth-lowest in the country.

Their opponent is no slouch in the box. UCF averages 9.4 hits per game to go along with over six runs per game. Tim Walton will either place Hightower or Lugo in the circle. If it is Hightower, expect the junior to dominate. Hightower is currently on a 19.1 scoreless inning streak. Her performances in Starkville included two complete-game shutouts and a save.

For UCF Head Coach Cindy Ball-Malone, expect Gianna Mancha or Alea White in the circle. These two pitchers account for 21 of 25 starts for the Golden Knights, and they have made their mark. White is 10-1 in her 14 appearances this season with an ERA of 1.85.

Mancha may have a worse record, 8-3, but she actually holds a slightly better ERA of 1.66. Mancha also pitched in the highlight win of the season against then-No. 2 Arizona.

Both pitchers allow batting averages less than .200 and combined for 147 strikeouts on the season.

First pitch for Wednesday night’s matchup is set for 6 p.m. Coverage can be found on ESPN 98.1 FM – 850 AM WRUF.

About Kyle Fansler

Originally from Seminole in the Tampa Bay area, Kyle is a contributor for ESPN Gainesville as well as local NPR and PBS affiliate WUFT. Kyle wants to get into sports with a lofty dream of being a sports broadcaster. He was raised playing soccer and baseball while watching hockey and football, so the knowledge about various sports is fairly extensive.

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