Chronister's pitching, Echols' walk-off homer lift Gators past A&M

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida's Charla Echols with the home-run heroics in Friday's win over Texas A&M.

Katie Chronister’s four hitless innings kept the Gators alive Friday against Texas A&M, and Charla Echols’ walk-off homer to take the series opener kept Florida in the hunt for the SEC regular season championship. 

Trailing by a run and down to their final two outs, Echols launched a three-run shot to center field for the 5-3 win at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

"Super, super proud of Charla for delivering a huge hit for us," UF coach Tim Walton said. "That's why she came to Florida. That's ultimately what she wanted, is that kind of pressure. She responded."

It was only the fifth hit of the game for Florida (38-8, 17-5 SEC) and Echols' 12th home run (team high). She was mobbed by her teammates after crossing the plate. 

"It's definitely something I'll never forget," Echols said. "You dream of those moments as a little girl. Walking somebody off feels really good. And being able to come through for your team when they need it, that's the best feeling ever." 

Following a scoreless first inning, an error by UF shortstop Sarah Longley with two outs allowed A&M’s Bre Warren to advance to third and score on Kayla Garcia’s single. 

The Aggies (31-18, 8-14 SEC) added two more runs in the top of the third with Warren’s two RBI single, but Florida cut the deficit back to one in the bottom of the inning. Cheyenne Lindsey hit a leadoff double, Hannah Adams plated her with a double to left center and Adams scored on Kendyl Lindaman’s single. 

"Cheyenne's at-bat was awesome, really good start," Walton said. "When they came with three, we came back with two."

After giving up back-to-back singles to start the fourth, UF pitcher Elizabeth Hightower was replaced in the circle by Chronister. She retired her first two batters and then intentionally walked Haley Lee, loading the bases for A&M, but the Gators got out of the jam with Morgan Smith’s fly ball.  

"I knew that we couldn't really afford to give up any more in that situation, so I just wanted to minimize the damage and get through it," Chronister said. "I don't even feel like I threw my best game, but what got me away with it was just being able to induce groundballs and hit my spots."

Chronister then tossed three consecutive 1-2-3 innings and earned her eighth win of the season, finishing with four strikeouts, no hits and two walks. Hightower had two Ks with seven hits, two earned runs and a walk in 3.0 innings. 

"Elizabeth made some pretty good pitches and they still hit the ball well," Walton said. "The key obviously was Katie Chronister coming into the game when she did, a lot earlier than I wanted.

"But she did her job and more and gave us the opportunity to win that ball game. So really, really proud of Charla's hit, but more impressed with the grittiness and toughness of Katie Chronister." 

Aggies pitcher Makinzy Herzog went the distance against Florida, striking out five batters and allowing five hits, five runs and five walks. 

The Gators are one win away from going undefeated in SEC series play this season and need to sweep A&M for a share of the conference title. The Aggies have lost five of their seven league series and been swept in two of them, including last weekend at home against Kentucky. 

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the game will be streamed on SEC Network +.