USF
Skylar Wallace hits a home run during the Gators' game against the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday, April 14, 2023 at Katie Seashole Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville, FL / UAA Communications photo by Te'a Startz.

Gators Take Down Kentucky In Opening Round Of SEC Softball Tournament

Just last weekend, the Florida Gators softball team dropped their final series of the regular season to the Kentucky Wildcats. But on Thursday afternoon, Florida got their revenge when it mattered the most.

The Gators cruised to a 6-2 victory over the Wildcats in the first round of the 2023 SEC Softball Tournament. Skylar Wallace turned in another stellar performance at the plate. She went 2-for-2 in the batter’s box and knocked out the go-ahead home run in the fifth inning. Wallace also finished with three runs scored on the day.

Charla Echols finished the day with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate for Florida. She went on to secure two RBIs and one run as well. Kaila Pollard also chipped in with a home run of her own in the fourth inning.

Elizabeth Hightower got the start in the circle for the Gators. In four innings pitched, Hightower allowed six hits, zero walks and two runs. Rylee Trlicek went on to relieve her in the fifth inning, and she tamed the Wildcats immediately. Trlicek only gave up two hits, one walk and zero runs in three innings of pitching en route to her 13th win of the season.

A Close Contest Early On

Neither side could put anything together in the batter’s box early in the afternoon. Through the first three innings, Florida’s only run came on a sacrifice fly from Echols. Meanwhile, Kentucky managed to record at least one hit in each of the first three innings, but they could not capitalize on any of them. The Gators clung to a 1-0 lead at the end of the third inning.

Eventually, the Wildcats woke up on the bats and took their first lead of the game. After Grace Lorsung knocked in a one-out single, Meeko Harrison blasted a deep ball over the right field wall to go up 2-1. However, Kaila Pollard responded with a homer of her own into left field in the bottom of the inning. By the time Pollard crossed home plate, the game was tied back up at 2-2.

In just her first year with the Gators, Pollard has already faced plenty of ups and downs. She missed over a month of time due to lingering injury concerns, having just recently returned to UF’s lineup on April 30. While Florida Head Coach Tim Walton mentioned she is still not 100%, he emphasized how proud he is of the freshman slugger in how she has battled through her adversities.

“It was a pretty cool moment to see that kid hit a home run here in the SEC tournament,” Walton said. “We’re finally getting her a lot more right, she seems to be responding a lot better to batting practice and some of the other stuff… There was no hit bigger than that opposite field home run to come back 2-2, and get the confidence and momentum back in our dugout.”

Gators Take Over Late In The Game

After Trlicek sat down the Wildcats 1-2-3 in her first inning inside the circle, the Gators were primed for a fifth-inning takeover. Wallace led off with a solo home run over the right field fence to reclaim the lead. From there, the floodgates completely opened up for Florida.

Kendra Falby and Echols then knocked in a pair of singles to give Florida runners on the corners with no outs on the board. Falby went on to score on a sacrifice fly from Reagan Walsh. Echols eventually made it home on a line drive into left field from Pal Egan. Florida had now taken complete control over Kentucky, and they refused to let up as the afternoon went on.

The Wildcats led off with a walk in the top of the sixth inning. However, the runner was subsequently called out after leaving first base early later in the inning. Despite a two-out single from Jenna Blanton, Kentucky failed to recover from their baserunning miscue and went scoreless in the inning.

Echols and Wallace got right back to work at the plate in the bottom of the inning. Wallace started things off with a one-out single to the Kentucky third baseman. She then advanced to second base on a Falby ground out. Echols then brought her home with an infield single to extend the Gators’ lead to 6-2.

Trlicek then closed the book on the Wildcats in the final inning. After sitting down the first two batters she saw, Trlicek allowed a two-out double to Kayla Kowalik. Trlicek remained unfazed and forced a fly out to center field in the subsequent (and final) at-bat. The Gators had now secured the round one win and advanced to the tournament quarterfinals.

Staying Afloat In The SEC

Florida has their work cut out for them in their next matchup. They will take on the Tennessee Volunteers on May 12 at 11:00 a.m. The Volunteers hold the top seed in the SEC tournament and swept the Gators in their only series of the 2023 regular season. However. the Gators remain confident in their chances to stay alive and shock the world.

“The postseason is just one game at a time,” Echols said. “We don’t care [about] what we’ve done before. It’s all about finding a way to win each game and each inning.”

About Jack Meyer

Jack Meyer is a third-year student at the University of Florida. He is majoring in Journalism and specializing in Sports and Media.

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