Gators win series opener against LSU behind Hightower's complete-game shutout
Florida's softball team remained undefeated in series openers Friday, bouncing back from a midweek loss to UCF.
Behind a complete-game shutout from pitcher Elizabeth Hightower, the No. 5 Gators (22-3, 6-1 SEC) won their fourth top-25 matchup of the season with a 5-0 decision over No. 13 LSU (18-9, 4-3) at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, which had more fans in attendance with new physical distancing guidelines.
"It was a nice crowd, nice evening. If you ask me how you draw it up on a Friday night, I think it looks pretty similar to that," UF coach Tim Walton. "We were able to get a couple hits with runners in scoring position and that was the difference in the game. But I thought Elizabeth just really gutted herself out. She stayed tough and kept locating her pitches.
"Her change of speed was really the key for her. She didn't do anything fancy, didn't make any mistakes. For that, she's rewarded with her victory."
After two scoreless innings, the Gators got their first hit on Jaimie Hoover’s double in the third. Hannah Adams’ then extended her hitting streak to 10 games with a two-RBI single to plate Hoover and Cheyenne Lindsey.
"That was a laser. She hit that thing hard," Walton said of Adams. "She's going to have big moments for us. She flies way under the radar for a lot of people, but man, how good is she? Really happy to have her leading off for us."
Florida had a chance to score again in the fifth after consecutive singles by Emily Wilkie and Lindsey, but LSU pitcher Shelbi Sunseri struck out Bryn Thomas looking to get out of the jam and leave Wilkie and Lindsey stranded on third and second.
Hightower pitched three 1-2-3 innings and allowed three hits, finishing with three strikeouts and three walks. Friday marked her fifth complete-game shutout this season and third straight in SEC play.
"I didn't specifically think it was my best night in the circle, but you can't really tell when my defense picked me up so well making great plays," Hightower said. "Even though I was struggling, I couldn't lose focus. I had to go hard every single pitch and just compete with every batter. There was no letting up."
Following Hoover’s sliding catch to end the top of the sixth, Florida’s Charla Echols and Kendyl Lindaman opened with back-to-back singles. Then Julia Cottrill hit a three-run homer off Sunseri to extend the lead.
"It felt amazing," Cottrill said of her first career home run. "To give credit to Coach [Aric] Thomas, before my at-bat he was like, 'They're going to throw you inside, so just be ready for it and hit it over the scoreboard.' I was like, 'Good approach.'
"The best part about it was all the girls being just as excited as I was for me. It was really awesome to feel my teammates so happy."
Sunseri was pulled after that, giving up seven hits, five runs and a walk with three strikeouts in five innings pitched.
Friday’s victory gave the Gators a winning record at home against LSU (14-13) and improved Walton to 26-14 in the series. UF also kept Tigers coach Beth Torina from winning her 400th career game at LSU.
"Coming off of a game where we lost and got walked off, playing against a team like this and coming away victorious is tough to do. We're definitely going to build off that," Walton said. "They lost the first game of the series against Tennessee and came back boom-boom, so they're not going anywhere. We're going to have to be on our 'A' game tomorrow."
ESPN will televise Saturday’s game at 5 p.m. as the Gators look to clinch their third series in SEC play.
Who: No. 13 LSU vs. No. 5 Florida
When: 5 p.m. (ESPN) Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday (SEC Network+)
Where: Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium