The Florida Gator softball team simply cannot be stopped. In just six games this season, UF has outscored their opponents 74-5. That trend of dominance continued against the Connecticut Huskies on Friday. Florida sent UConn packing after five innings in an impressive 9-1 victory to kick off the T-Mobile Tournament.
UF took care of business both in the circle and in the batter’s box. Elizabeth Hightower pitched five innings for the Gators, only allowing three hits, two walks and one run. Hightower also finished with 85 pitches and three strikeouts on the day to help her win for the third time this season.
Skylar Wallace led the way for the Gators on offense, racking up three RBIs and two stolen bases. Kendra Falby went two-for-two on the day while also picking up two RBIs and two walks. Falby increased her batting average on the season to .579, while Hightower has maintained a 0.00 ERA through 14 innings pitched this season.
Taking Time To Heat Up
The Huskies gave the Gators an early scare to lead off the game. Savannah Ring blasted out a double in the first at-bat of the game to immediately give Connecticut a runner on base. However, Hightower remained composed in the circle. After picking up a pair of pop outs, Hightower struck out UConn’s Hope Jerkins to prevent the Huskies from scoring.
Midway through the first inning, the score remains 0-0. The Huskies kicked off the inning with a leadoff double, but Elizabeth Hightower swiftly regained control of the situation, eventually securing a strikeout to strand the Huskies’ runner on third base. pic.twitter.com/uan9sboaXv
— Jack Meyer (@jackmeyerespn) February 17, 2023
“Being a fifth-year and having five years of experience under my belt, that wasn’t the first [jam] and it probably won’t be the last,” Hightower said. “Leaning into my experience and preparation, it made the moment not a big deal.”
Florida then slowly began to build up their lead in the early innings. After Falby led off with a walk and a stolen base in the first inning, she scored on a ground ball from Wallace. One inning later, Reagan Walsh knocked out a double into center field. She eventually made it home courtesy of a sacrifice hit from Avery Goelz.
Hightower kept up her strong performance in the circle for Florida. Following the first inning, she only allowed one walk and zero hits in the subsequent three innings.
Gators Take Over In The Third Inning
As Hightower continued to keep the Huskies in check, the Gators’ offense found its footing in the third inning. Falby and Katie Kistler punched out a pair of singles to kick things off for Florida. Connecticut then walked Baylee Goddard to load the bases with no outs.
With Wallace now up to bat, she had a chance to open up the floodgates for the Gators offense. Despite the high stakes of this plate appearance, Wallace treated this at-bat the same way she would have treated any other one.
“I don’t think my mindset changes from bases loaded to nobody on,” Wallace said. “It’s just controlling what I can control, finding a ball that I know I can drive.”
Wallace cracked a well-hit ball into right field to bring Falby and Kistler home. Florida had all the momentum from there.
Skyler Wallace extends Florida’s lead by two runs! A well-hit single with the bases loaded gives the Gators a 4-0 lead with no outs in the bottom of the third inning. pic.twitter.com/0gJypxAOYA
— Jack Meyer (@jackmeyerespn) February 18, 2023
The Gators later scored four consecutive runs in the third inning off of based-loaded walks. With six base on balls in the inning (and nine total), Florida’s plate discipline played a key role in their victory on Friday. Gator coach Tim Walton praised his squad for knowing when (and when not) to swing.
“We preach an aggressive discipline,” Walton said. “We’re not looking to walk, we’re not looking to get hit by pitches…we’re just taking what you give us. And if you throw the ball over the plate, we’re going to put a good swing on a good pitch historically.”
Falby Puts It Away For Florida
The Gators’ offense tapered out in the fourth inning, only securing a walk and no hits. Later on, the Huskies scored their first run of the game in the fifth inning, with Ring driving home a run on an RBI single. Hightower managed to prevent any further damage and UF quickly shut down any hopes of a comeback in the bottom of the inning.
Florida immediately loaded the bases with a walk and a pair of singles, giving Kendra Falby a golden opportunity to end the game. And that she did. With a knock into left field, Falby brought home the winning run to secure the mercy rule win.
Gators win! Kendra Falby knocks in an RBI single to clinch the mercy rule victory for Florida, who takes home the 9-1 W over the UConn Huskies. pic.twitter.com/jaPy8tDIek
— Jack Meyer (@jackmeyerespn) February 18, 2023
Florida’s match up with UConn opened up a busy weekend featuring two double-headers in the next two days. The Gators will take on the Bowling Green State Falcons on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. before a rematch with the Huskies at 1 p.m.
On Sunday, UF will face off against the Central Michigan Chippewas at 11:30 a.m. and the Delaware State Hornets at 2 p.m. All of these games will take place at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium as a part of the T-Mobile Tournament.