Florida softball stayed perfect over the weekend, here's what we learned
The No. 4-ranked Florida Gators softball team continued its flawless start to the season over the weekend as it hosted the five-team T-Mobile Tournament at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
Florida went on to outscore its weekend opponents 30-4 after beating No. 14 Duke 9-3, Villanova 4-0, Louisville 9-1, and Florida A&M 8-0. To date, the Gators have outscored all of their opponents by a combined score of 77-6.
Here are a few takeaways from the Gators' long weekend in action:
Billy Napier has a fan in Tim Walton
Hull Road on the University of Florida's campus was bustling on Friday night as Florida softball drew a top-15 matchup and Gators baseball opened its season against Liberty.
And what better way to get fans fired up than to bring UF football's first-year head coach Billy Napier out to the rubber to throw out the first pitch in each game.
At softball, Billy Napier relinquished the honors to his daughter Annie, who fired a pitch down the middle and into the glove of Florida's starting catcher, sophomore Emily Wilkie.
Following Florida's 9-3 win over Duke, Florida softball head coach Tim Walton was quick to express his admiration for UF's new ball coach.
"I've got a chance to interact with him twice now in person," Walton said. "You can feel just how much passion he has. The attention to detail, the things that really matter. I can only be a fan just like everyone else and read about the different phases of what they're trying to do and build relationships and get their players better in all phases before they even touch the football field. So I'm impressed already."
New faces, immediate impacts
For Kendra Falby and Skylar Wallace, this season is their first suiting up for the Orange and Blue, albeit for different reasons.
While Falby is a freshman who came to UF by way of Odessa, Florida, in the fall, Wallace transferred from the University of Alabama in 2020, but wasn't immediately eligible to play due to transfer rules.
But the two are Gators now. And they're having immediate impacts.
Falby has wasted no time finding her stride during her opening 10 games of college softball.
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Serving as the Gators' leadoff batter, the rookie is boasting a .548 batting average and went 5 for 14 from the plate over the weekend. Falby went a perfect 3 for 3 against Louisville on Saturday, followed by an impressive 3-for-4 performance against FAMU on Sunday.
"She's got about five or six things that she does," Walton said of Falby. "She can bunt, she can soft slap, she chops, she has a swing that she does without a follow through, she can swing and then she has more of a hard slap... Kendra is a scary, scary kid."
Falby knocked three hits for extra bases, including a pair of triples, three RBIs and scored six runs on the weekend.
Meanwhile, the addition of Wallace to Florida's game plan was one that many looked forward to given her success in Tuscaloosa during her freshman and sophomore seasons.
Walton noted a "potential electricity" coming off Wallace's bat after she hit a double against Jacksonville on Wednesday.
And that comment came full circle on Friday night as Wallace blasted a moonshot beyond the centerfield wall in the bottom of the first inning, notching her first home run as a Gator and igniting Florida's offense.
"She kept hitting me outside," Wallace said of Duke pitcher Shelby Walters. "She kinda brought one in and I was swinging. That's really it. There's nothing special about it. You're just trying to get on base and keep it simple. That was my mindset, just keep it simple and do what I need to do to find a way on base and ended up being lucky."
Wallace's home run came moments after she made an incredible diving grab from first base to give the Blue Devils their first out of the game.
No base is safe with the Gators
Adding Falby and Wallace also beefed up Florida's baserunning — an area that didn't necessarily need improvement, but has certainly reaped the benefits.
Florida veterans, senior Cheyenne Lindsey and fifth-year Hannah Adams are great baserunners. Together, the two went 22 for 23 when stealing bases last season. Katie Kistler, a sophomore who is often called in to pinch run, went a perfect 12 for 12 last season.
But with the additions of Falby and Wallace, Florida's lineup has gotten faster and stealing bases has gotten easier.
Through 10 games, the Gators have successfully stolen 21 bases on 24 attempts.
Together, Falby and Wallace have gone 17 for 17, with Falby leading the way with 10 steals.
Gators bullpen is deep and dynamic
Five different arms saw action in the circle throughout the weekend as the Gators gave up just four runs.
Freshman right hander Lexie Delbrey took the circle first against the Blue Devils on Friday night, but was reeled back into the dugout in the top of second inning after giving up two free bases, a double and tossing three wild pitches.
"I told Lexie that we've played two ranked teams and you've got the ball in both games, so that tells you that we think a lot of you and we think you're going to have a great career here," Walton said. "But at the time, my team grabbed momentum and they looked good and we can't let that go to waste."
Relieving the rookie was senior Elizabeth Hightower, who finished off Duke in six innings of work with a 1.17 ERA and four strikeouts.
Fifth-year veteran Natalie Lugo earned the nod in Florida's opening game on Saturday against Villanova and went the distance, securing her first complete-game shutout of the season.
Lugo, a righty, allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out five in the effort.
In Saturday's second game against the Louisville Cardinals, Delbrey looked to brush off Friday's rocky performance as she started in the circle for the Gators.
In the six-inning contest, Delbrey struck out eight and gave up just two hits and one run to bounce back and top the Cardinals.
Sunday afternoon's start went to junior Rylee Trlicek, who hurled four innings in the five-inning contest and did what she does best: produce ground balls and let her defense go to work.
Trlicek gave up two hits, walked one and struck out two before Walton called Marissa Mesiemore, a fifth-year transfer from Florida Gulf Coast to close out the game.
Mesiemore, who inherited two FAMU runners with no outs in the top of the fifth, got the Gators out of the jam to preserve the shutout.
"I think the things that I learned... again, Lexie Delbrey is a freshman, Elizabeth Hightower is still good, Natalie Lugo has done a good job, Rylee did a good job, Marissa did a good job," Walton said. "They just compete well and they complement each other very well."
Gators likely to climb in rankings
After maintaining their hot streak and picking up their second ranked win of the season, the Gators are trending in the right direction early.
To the west at the St. Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational, the No. 3-ranked UCLA Bruins suffered two losses — a 6-4 loss to Northwestern in eight innings and a 4-3 loss to No. 5 Florida State.
With UCLA now holding a record of 7-3, the No. 4 Gators and could slide up into the No. 3 spot with their 10-0 record.
However, the fifth-ranked Seminoles, who picked up their fifth straight ranked win against the Bruins, could leap frog over the Gators for that top three spot in the rankings.
The next set of rankings are set to come out on Tuesday morning.