Florida gets jump on SEC softball series, blanks Arkansas

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Florida ace Kelly Barnhill, left, improved to 25-6 on Wednesday with a 4-0 win over FSU. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun/File/

Lily Mann didn’t start Friday night’s softball game against Arkansas, but the Florida senior had a lot to do with how it finished.

Mann made a diving catch in right field in the top of the fourth and had a big hit in the bottom of the inning as No. 8 Florida handled No. 14 Arkansas 3-0 in the first game of a three-game series. It’s UF’s 28th consecutive win over Arkansas.

Oh, and Mann also scored the eventual winning run.

Mann’s infield single in the fourth inning loaded the bases and an error on a grounder by Hannah Adams allowed two runs to score and give the Gators some breathing room.

“Her drop ball was really moving so I couldn’t execute the bunts,” Mann said of Arkansas starter Autumn Storms (14-4). “I just was trying to put anything in play.”

Mann entered the game as a pinch-runner in the second and stayed in the game. Even she was surprised when Florida coach Tim Walton didn’t go back to Jordan Roberts with two on and nobody out.

“It was kind of last minute,” she said. “I was kind of running to get my helmet. I wasn’t expecting it.”

Her smash to the right side of the infield was corralled by second baseman Haydi Bugarin, whose throw from shallow right field was high and late. One batter later, Florida had a 3-0 lead.

“We just wanted her to make contact,” said Walton. “She made more than contact.”

Kelly Barnhill had a big night as well, allowing only three hits to run her record to 20-5. The rise ball that she has been struggling with this season and disappeared Wednesday against Florida State returned, as Arkansas (26-12, 6-7 in the SEC) was unable to get a runner to second in the game.

“My rise ball was working on different planes, which is partly why I was able to be so successful tonight,” Barnhill said.

It didn’t hurt that the defense for Florida (30-9, 4-6) was stellar from Mann’s play to a strange double play by Amanda Lorenz at first.

“The defense was really amazing,” Barnhill said. “I was just letting them make the plays. They make it look so easy.”

The double play that you don’t see every day came in the fifth inning when Nicole Duncan hit a ball that bounced several feet to the right of the first base line, then spun to the left into fair territory.

Lorenz batted it with her glove, picked it up and tagged Kayla Green at first, then tagged the bag for the twin killing.

“One of the smartest softballs plays,” Walton said. “You see it in baseball. Don’t see it in softball very often. Super smart.”

Florida actually scored the winning run in the second inning when Jaimie Hoover ripped a shot off Storms that the pitcher knocked down and then threw away allowing Mann to score.

Florida only had three hits in the game, all singles and only one out of the infield. The Gators hit the ball on the nose all night, but usually right at someone.

“It felt like we had 10 runs on 10 hits,” Walton said.

Arkansas came into the game leading the SEC in errors and it showed. The three unearned runs allowed by Storms were hardly unusual as she has been charged with 28 of them vs. 33 earned runs this season.

The win allowed Florida to snap a three-game losing streak.The two teams play the second game of the series today at 6 p.m. The game will be on the SEC Network.

“My message to the team is that we’ve won three out of four Friday nights (and lost the first three series),” Walton said. “We’ve gotta do a good job. Whatever the routine, whatever the habits we have to change it up. “Whatever you did in the morning (previously), don’t so the same thing. Make sure your preparation process is better.”