By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent
The No. 7 Florida softball team opened the final series of the regular season Friday with its fourth consecutive loss at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
Mississippi State (31-19, 8-14 SEC) jumped out to an early lead with a pair of home runs, while the Gators (39-14, 11-11) struggled at the plate in their 6-4 loss to the Bulldogs. Swept at home by Alabama two weeks ago, UF had just one hit against MSU.
“We gave up six runs, so I don’t know that there wasn’t a struggle anywhere. We struggled everywhere,” Gators coach Tim Walton said. “They came out swinging the bat and did a really good job early.”
Florida ace Kelly Barnhill (27-10) gave up a home run in the top of the first to MSU’s Fa Leilua, whose left-field shot scored Mia Davidson. The Gators added a run in the bottom of the inning on the fourth walk by Bulldogs pitcher Emily Williams.
Barnhill gave up three more runs in the second, ending her night after just 29 pitches, as Florida fell behind 5-1. Sarai Niu homered to left field and plated Davidson, followed by Emily Heimberger’s groundout to score Bevia Robinson.
Natalie Lugo replaced Barnhill in the third and the Bulldogs scored their sixth run on a wild pitch, but the sophomore pitcher was solid the rest of the way. Lugo allowed three hits and struck out six batters, throwing 75 pitches in 4.2 innings.
“She wasn’t very good. She didn’t throw any of her hard stuff,” Walton said of Barnhill. “The only bright spot to me was the Natalie Lugo relief performance. She gave us a chance.”
The Gators didn’t get a hit until the fourth inning, but had a pair of runners on in the third. Jaimie Hoover struck out swinging with two outs and Amanda Lorenz at third base.
Lorenz came close to hitting a home run in the fifth, but her center-filed shot couldn’t clear the wall. Florida’s only hit of the night was an infield single by Sophia Reynoso.
“We performed very poorly,” said Lorenz, who was walked three times. “Obviously we need to be a lot better. One hit is not enough. Tonight was unacceptable.
“It’s not ever easy to loss, but it’s easier to handle a loss when you performed well and you just got beat. We just did not perform well and that shows in the stats.”
Williams pitched a full game Friday, finishing with five strikeouts and 12 walks in 158 pitches. Half of those came in the seventh inning, giving the Gators an opportunity to rally late.
Alex Voss and Lorenz scored to make it 6-3 with the bases loaded, but lightning in the area caused a 87-minute delay. MSU’s lead was cut to two when play resumed after Williams walked Hoover, but she struck out Cheyenne Lindsey looking to end the game.
Due to anticipated inclement weather conditions for Sunday, the third game of the series will now take place Saturday. Florida’s doubleheader with the Bulldogs is slated to start at 4 p.m.
Seniors Barnhill, Lorenz, Voss, Lily Mann and Theresa Swertfager will be recognized prior to the first game.
“We have to bounce back quicker rather than later,” Walton said. “We play two games and we gotta figure out what we can do to salvage the weekend.
“These five seniors are special. They’ve all been through a lot and won some championships for us. They’ve been bright spots and good kids.”