Florida prepares to tackle tough competition in SEC tournament

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Coach Tim Walton has won eight of the nine regular-season SEC titles at Florida, which is also the most by any head coach in the league.

Florida's No. 4-ranked softball team appears to be peaking at the right time. 

Winners of seven of its last eight games, Florida travels to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for the SEC Tournament. The Gators won all eight of their SEC series this season, three via three-game sweeps.

UF rides into the Cotton State as the No. 1 seed in the tourney after sweeping Texas A&M last weekend thanks to walk-off wins Friday and Sunday. Needing a sweep to clinch their league-leading ninth conference crown, the Gators (40-8, 19-5 SEC) did so to tie Arkansas (40-8, 19-5) atop the standings. 

The Gators were deemed the No.1-seed in the tournament due to having won the series against No.3-seed Alabama during the regular season. 

The good news kept coming Tuesday when the SEC announced its All-SEC awards. Five Gators collected accolades.  

Second baseman Hannah Adams and third baseman Charla Echols picked up First Team distinctions, right-hander Elizabeth Hightower and first baseman Kendyl Lindaman nabbed Second Team recognition, and catcher Julia Cottrill was recognized on the newcomer team. 

Adams and Echols gained the honors for the first time and were also named to the All-SEC defensive team.  

Adams, a senior, reached base in 47 of UF’s 48 games and developed a “clutch” moniker from the squad due to her five game-winning RBIs. Echols ranks in the top six of the conference in RBIs, slugging and on-base percentage. 

Hightower, meanwhile, rocks a 1.57 ERA (sixth-best in the conference). She won six games against top-25 competition and pitched a career-long 20.2 scoreless inning streak.  

The junior leads a dominant Florida staff which includes three hurlers with an ERA under two — Hightower and seniors Natalie Lugo (1.69) and Katie Chronister (1.86). 

Lindaman’s hitting numbers dipped from 2019 to 2021, but still produced nine multi-RBI games. The fifth-year ranks in the top five among active NCAA career leaders in games played (260), home runs (68) and RBIs (236). 

 Florida, the reigning champions after having won the 2018 and 2019 tournaments with 2020 being wiped out because of COVID-19, begins its quest for a sixth SEC Tournament title today against No. 9 seed Mississippi State (33-22) at Rhoads Field.  

The Gators swept the Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi, on March 19-21. MSU advanced to the second round after a 3-1 upset win over rival No. 24 Ole Miss on Wednesday afternoon. 

The Bulldogs place in the top-half of the SEC in major offensive categories such as hits, runs scored and home runs. However, they maintain the fourth-worst ERA and fifth-worst opposing batting average. 

First pitch flies at noon on the SEC Network.  

Should Florida emerge victorious, it will most likely face No. 4 seed Missouri in the semifinals Friday at 4 p.m. on ESPN2. The Gators stole two of three from the 15th-ranked Tigers in Columbia, Missouri, April 30-May 2.  

The tournament final commences at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2. 

Notes: UF’s five SEC Tournament championships are tied for the most among programs alongside LSU and Alabama. ... No team has won three consecutive SEC Tournament championships.

Today

What: SEC softball tournament, quarterfinal round

Who: Top seed Florida (40-8) vs. nine seed Mississippi State (33-22)

When: 12 p.m. ET

Where: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM