Florida’s offense freezes in Super Regional as season ends on second-consecutive shutout

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Florida coach Tim Walton watches Georgia beat his Gators in Game 2 of the NCAA Gainesville Super-Regional on Saturday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The Bulldogs beat the Gators 6-0 to advance to the Women's College World Series.

Hannah Adams starred in big moments all season for the Florida Gators softball team, so much so that she developed a “clutch” moniker.

Three times this season, Adams delivered the walked-off for UF, but this time, she hit a groundball to Georgia shortstop Ellie Armistead. The freshman tossed it to second baseman Sydney Kuma, and just like that, the season was over.

The only note heard through the Saturday afternoon air at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium was the screaming of the Bulldog players, running out of the home dugout to celebrate like they had won the lottery.

The Florida players stood in disbelief.

How could this happen?

No. 4 UF completed one of the best regular seasons in recent program history (45-11 and a share of the SEC regular-season title). It seemed a shoo-in to its fourth consecutive Women’s College World Series berth after drawing unranked Georgia in the Super Regional.

But now, the Gators season is over after rival Georgia (34-21) shut them out for the second game in a row to steal Florida’s spot and advance to the WCWS.

The temperature at first pitch stood in the mid-80s. But despite the balmy weather, a freeze enveloped the field and landed right on the Florida offense.

“Whatever pitch she wanted, it seemed like she could throw it exactly where she wanted it,” coach Tim Walton said about UGA ace Mary Wilson Avant (20-10). “Her location was excellent, her speed differential was good. She was great, and we knew she would be coming in.”

UF, however, sent out its best response to combat the offensive struggles — right-hander Elizabeth Hightower (17-6). The junior did not allow a hit in her last two starts, a combined 13 1/3 innings.

The Bulldogs, designated as the home team by the NCAA for Game 2, put runners on second and third in the bottom of the first.

First baseman Lacey Fincher bit the Gators with a single down the left field line. The Gators excelled all season at taking early leads, but found themselves in an early hole again.

Right fielder Jaiden Fields, sister of Chicago Bears quarterback and NFL first-round pick Justin Fields, blasted a ball to left to begin the second. It landed in the UF bullpen, her second home run in as many days.

The next inning, center fielder Jayda Kearney took Hightower on the long-ball machine, this one to left-center, 3-0 ‘Dawgs.

Florida failed to muster anything as Avant sliced and diced through the lineup.

The Gators remained alive thanks to solid pitching from five-year senior Katie Chronister, determined to not make this her final game donning the orange and blue.

UGA third baseman Savana Sikes drew a walk to start the fifth. Sydney Kuma was next up. She hadn’t hit a homer since May 1. On the first offering, she bombed one that, at first glance, appeared to land on Museum Drive. A game that seemed within reach for UF now looked unattainable.

Four batters later, Florida left fielder Jaimie Hoover misplayed a single, scoring another Georgia run.

The wheels came off the Gators at this point, as the Bulldogs attacked the Gators one last time.

An inning and a half later, the hopes of ending a dream season, unlike any other thanks to the COVID pandemic, ending with a national title collapsed.

“When you are in a hole, especially on an elimination day, you can feel the air get sucked out,” Walton said. “If you had asked me if this was going to happen in March, I’d say yes, once we started becoming who we are. Our preseason was really good, and we never got back to that level.”