Tim Walton knew that the harsh reality for his Florida softball team was coming. And when it came, it crashed down on his sixth-ranked Gators.
For the second day in a row, UF could not hold on to a 4-0 lead, instead seeing it dissolve into another loss. 10th-ranked Louisiana (14-5) won the series against the Gators with a 7-6 win one day after winning 7-4.
“It’s not something I was not prepared for,” Walton said. “We’re doing things I’ve never had to do in my entire coaching career. It’s the harsh reality of where we’re at and we have to get better.”
The Gators came into the season with a lot of questions about the pitching staff and — after a midweek game against Florida Gulf Coast — will still have those questions heading into SEC play despite a 17-4 record so far this season.
On a perfect Sunday afternoon, Natalie Lugo was strong through five innings before the roof caved in.
She allowed a two-run homer to Raina O’Neal to pull Louisiana within a run and a run-scoring double to Taylor Roman to tie the score in the sixth. In the seventh, O’Neal gave her team the lead with a single and Carrie Boswell followed with a two-run homer and a 7-4 lead.
All the runs came against Lugo, now 6-2.
“There’s only room to grow,” Lugo said. “If there is blame to put on anyone, the staff is going to put it on ourselves. Our hitters got us the runs.”
Just not enough of them.
Kendyl Lindaman blasted a three-run homer in the second to put UF up 4-0 and Charla Echols hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the seventh to pull Florida within a run.
“We know our pitchers are working hard so we’ll just score more runs for them,” Echols said. “We’re not worried about them. When our pitchers get there — which they will — we’re going to be good.”
Perhaps, but this is not the usual Florida dynamic team on the mound and Kelly Barnhill is not walking through that door. This five-pitcher staff has a 2.25 ERA, which is hardly terrible, but the events if the last two days amplified the concerns heading into SEC play.
“Where we did a poor job is we gave them too many bases,” Walton said. “Walks are walks, but walks followed up by doubles and home runs are poisonous.
“We’ve gotta get a little tougher. We’re going to have a lot of games like today and yesterday. This is 100 percent the reality and I think the only person who thought it was going to be was me. We’re going to have to get better. We all have to continue to improve. It’s going to be a grind.”
The Gators scored their six runs against Louisiana All-American pitchers Summer Ellyson and Megan Keist.
But, again, it wasn’t enough.
“We have to look at the WHIP (walks and hits allowed per innings pitched) and keep that low,” said Walton. “Or we have no chance. You can’t outscore people every single day.”