Special to Gatorsports.com
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Sophomore Jordan Matthews capped Florida’s rally in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday with a two-run double to lift the Gators to a 6-5 win on the opening day of the SEC softball tournament.
Florida went with freshman Elizabeth Hightower in the circle instead of senior All-American Kelly Barnhill. The move looked solid when she struck out the first three batters. The game started at about 1:45 p.m. ET before inclement weather in the area forced a four hour and 58 minute delay in the top of the second.
No. 11 seed South Carolina (36-17) came back from the long delay with a bang, as Cayla Drotar lifted the first home run of the afternoon over the wall in left field and off the scoreboard to give the Gamecocks a 1-0 lead through two. The scoring continued in a big way in the top of the third when Mackenzie Boesel blasted a two-run homer in center field to push the lead to 3-0. Kennedy Clark later homered in the inning to extend the advantage to 4-0 through three full innings of action.
From there, the momentum swung to the defending SEC Tournament champions. UF pitcher Natalie Lugo entered in relief in the fourth and turned in three solid innings of work before she gave way to Katie Chronister (1-0) with one out in the seventh.
No. 6 seed Florida (41-15) overcame the 4-0 deficit by scoring six runs in the final two innings. Three of the Gators’ six runs were unearned.
The Gators cut the deficit to 4-2 in the sixth when Hannah Adams and Sophia Reynoso both singled and then, with two outs, two errors by the Gamecocks allowed the UF runners to score.
“I think the cool thing is players have moments, Sofia had a couple nice moments today and Adams, and obviously Jordan Matthews is no stranger to big moments,” UF coach Tim Walton said. “We are really happy for that, happy our pitching staff was able to bandage the game together. To get in and out of trouble a little bit and use our defense when we needed to.”
South Carolina added a run in the top of the seventh, setting the stage for the Gators’ rally.
Kendyl Lindaman walked to open the UF frame, moved to second on a ground out and scored on Jordan Roberts’ single. Adams then doubled to put runners on second and third. Reynoso worked a long at-bat before hitting a shot to first that was misplayed, allowing a run to score. Matthews then doubled to score Adams and Reynoso.
“It was very nice,” Matthews said. “I wasn’t looking for anything, just to make good contact. I was thinking just one more run. Just to hit a deep enough sac (fly). I wasn’t trying to do too much.”
Florida will play 3 seed LSU (40-15) in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Thursday.