Gainesville Super Regional: UGA eliminates Florida behind Avant's complete-game shutout

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
The Florida softball team thanks fans at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium after being eliminated from the NCAA tournament Saturday by Georgia, 6-0, in Game 2 of the Super Regional.

Georgia’s Mary Wilson Avant pitched another complete-game shutout Saturday as Florida’s season ended with a 6-0 loss in the Gainesville Super Regional.

Avant struck out four batters and allowed four hits, while UF starting pitcher Elizabeth Hightower and reliever Katie Chronister both gave up home runs. 

It’s the first time Florida (45-11) hasn’t advanced to the Women’s College World Series since 2016, and UGA also eliminated the Gators that year in Gainesville. 

"Whatever pitch she wanted, it felt like she could throw," UF coach Tim Walton said of Avant (20-10). "She probably touches more spots in the zone than any other pitcher we've faced all season. I thought our swings were good today, definitely a lot better than they were last night. 

"But, obviously, when you're in a hole, especially being elimination day, you could just start to feel the air get sucked out of the hitters. But I thought we still competed all the way through."

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Georgia’s Jayda Kearney gets a high five from Georgia head coach Lu Harris-Champer for her home run in the bottom of the third inning Saturday in Game 2 of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The Bulldogs beat the Gators 6-0 and move on to the Women's College World Series.

Elizabeth Hightower surrenders two home runs, gets pulled early

The Bulldogs (34-21) scored a run in each of the first three innings, starting with Lacey Fincher’s single to plate Savana Sikes. Jaiden Fields homered for the second consecutive game, and Hightower was pulled in the third after Jayda Kearney left the yard.

It marked just the third time this year where Hightower gave up two homers in a game, including Florida’s regular-season loss at Georgia. She allowed four hits and a walk in 2.2 innings Saturday, striking out six.

"Obviously it changes the score, for sure," Walton said of Hightower's early exit. "The free passes that we gave up were a lot to overcome. She gave up an inside-pitch home run, she gave up a change-up home run. Katie Chronister gives up an outside-pitch home run. I just give them more credit."

Katie Chronister closes her Gators career

Chronister took over in the circle and retired her first four batters, but surrendered three runs in the fifth. 

UGA’s Sydney Kuma hit a two-run homer and Sydney Chambley singled to score pinch runner Jacqui Switzer. Florida intentionally walked Fields to load the bases with just one out, but Chronsiter struck out Payden Bordeau swinging and Chambley couldn’t advance past Charla Echols at third base. 

In her final outing as a Gator, Chronister finished with two Ks and allowed three hits, three runs and three walks in 2.1 innings pitched. 

"It's going to be a totally different season next year without (departing seniors) Katie Chronister, Jaimie Hoover, Kendyl Lindaman and Jordan Matthews," Walton said. "Just appreciate all their contributions to our program. Four great human beings. Really proud of their development and growth as people and players."

Florida threatened in the sixth with Julia Cottrill singling up the middle and advancing to second on a walk. However, Georgia got the final out on Emily Wilkie’s foul ball.

The Bulldogs then loaded the bases on UF reliever Rylee Trlicek with Lacey Fincher’s double and two walks, but Natalie Lugo replaced her and got out of the jam. 

The Gators couldn’t rally in the seventh and lost their first series all season. UGA, meanwhile, is Oklahoma City bound for the fifth time in program history.

"We had a fantastic season, played really well. We lost one series all year long. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong series to lose," Walton said. "Overall, it was more Georgia and less us. They just did a much better job competing this weekend than we did.

"But I am proud of our team. They've accomplished a ton. We had some huge growth in our program. So really proud of what we've built here and the consistency. Disappointed that we're not advancing, but I'd much rather get beat than beat myself. And they beat us." 

Gainesville Super Regional

Georgia vs. Florida at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium

Friday: Georgia 4, Florida 0

Saturday: Georgia 6, Florida 0, Florida eliminated