Softball: Florida Gators open SEC play with 8-4 comeback win over Mississippi State

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports
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The Florida softball team's opening 22 games are now in the rearview mirror as the fourth-ranked Gators (22-1, 1-0) turned the page into SEC play on Saturday and picked up their first conference win in an 8-4 win over Mississippi State (15-9, 0-1). 

Here are takeaways from the win.

Weekend preview:Florida softball team set to open series Saturday with Mississippi State

More: Takeaways from No. 4 Florida's red hot, 5-0 weekend at the Bubly Invitational

Playing in Rainesville

The Gators and Bulldogs were slated to open the series on Saturday at noon, but were forced to move it back to a later start time due to Gainesville's inclement weather earlier in the day. 

While Florida head coach Tim Walton gushed about his grounds crew for getting Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in top notch shape after three days of downpours, he admits the weather affected the Gators' practice schedule heading into the weekend's three-game series. 

"Practice was a little interesting," Walton said. "We were able to get all of our swings in. Defensively we were a little shaky in regards to being able to get out there and get ground balls because of the weather. And then obviously we had zero practice in the wind."

Saturday night's weather came with wind gusts, which took some adjusting to for the Gators. Florida's field committed a pair of uncharacteristic errors against Mississippi State, which is the first time the Gators have made more than one error in a game this season. 

"Unfortunately there's some things you can't control in the game," junior shortstop Skylar Wallace, who finished with an error, said. "Like the wind today and the sun was just not working with us. 

Gators fall behind early

Florida's pair of errors weren't the only mishaps early in Saturday's contest. 

The Gators allowed the Bulldogs to scratch across the first run of the game in the top of the third inning as Mississippi State orchestrated an inning of small ball, ignited by fifth-year catcher Mia Davidson. 

Davidson, who broke the SEC record for home runs earlier this season, led off the third inning with a lead-off single, which was followed by a pair of miscues from the Gators. 

In the fourth inning, the Bulldogs once again led off with base hit, from Shea Moreno. 

"Both starting pitchers were chasing fire," Walton said. "The leadoff hitter on base, every inning, for both teams. The first four innings, each team had the leadoff runner on... Both of them were chasing fire by getting that leadoff hitter on over and over and over again."

Another rally of small ball allowed the Bulldogs to tack on another pair of runs, taking a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning. 

Freshman Lexie Delbrey deals

After a shaky outing from fifth-year pitcher Elizabeth Hightower — who pitched 4.0 innings and allowed six hits, which resulted in three runs — Walton called upon freshman righty Lexie Delbrey, who made the most of her first conference appearance. 

Delbrey checked into the circle at the start of the fifth inning and gave up a four-pitch walk, putting a runner in the base path with no outs. 

But the rookie would go on to clean up the inning, forcing the next three batters out. 

"I talked to Lexie towards the end of the fall before we kinda broke for Christmas ... told her that she's the key ingredient to this pitching staff making a run to the College World Series," Walton said. "And I mean that. Not because I want to put pressure on the kid, but understanding her role and the potential she has."

Delbrey's impressive night continued into the sixth inning, when she struck out the side, putting the Bulldogs nine-, one- and two-hole hitters down in order. 

The freshman picked up her eighth win of the season with her effort and was relieved by fifth-year Marissa Mesiemore, who secured her first save of the year. 

"Lexie did a great job being able to keep us right there," Walton added.

No 'out' in Florida's lineup

The Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead into the fourth inning. 

You'd be hard pressed to find a team as deep as Florida's in the nation. And the advantage that brings came to light in the fifth inning. 

Florida plated a pair of runs in the fourth inning to cut Mississippi State's lead to one run, but it wasn't until the fifth inning that things really started clicking for the Gators. 

The middle of the Gators' lineup quickly jumped on the Bulldogs and their junior ace Kenley Hawk as Wallace (2-for-3, 2 RBI), senior Charla Echols (1-for-4, RBI) and senior Cheyenne Lindsey (3-for-4, RBI) opened with three consecutive hits, scoring a pair of runs and taking a 4-3 lead. 

Though Florida was heading to the back half of its lineup, the scoring didn't stop there. 

Florida freshman Sam Roe, who hit in the eight hole, hit a fly ball out to centerfield, where it was dropped, allowing her to reach third and score Echols from second. 

Sophomore nine-hole hitter Katie Kistler kept the hitting streak alive with a RBI double, scoring Roe and giving the Gators a 6-3 lead. 

"We don't have an 'out' in the lineup... I really like what those guys have been doing," Walton said.

As the lineup turned over, Wallace would rake a pitch up the middle, scoring another pair of runs and increasing Florida's lead out to 8-3 before Mississippi State finally put an end to the Gators' six-run inning. 

Gators know what to expect in SEC

Like any sport in the SEC, the conference's softball talent is about as stout as it gets. 

In this week's USA Today's poll, nine of the 25 ranked teams hail from the SEC. 

"The SEC is the best. We're so competitive," said Wallace, who transferred from Alabama two years ago. "It's the most top, elite athletes of every class, in travel ball, in everything."

But for Lindsey, who has spent her entire college career in Gainesville, playing in the SEC and wearing the Orange and Blue comes with a different weight. 

"With SEC play, everybody is out for the Gators," Lindsey said. "Everybody that we play is like that, but everybody wants the Gators and they want to beat us."

Florida's opening SEC series continued Sunday, followed by a 7 p.m. finale on Monday evening. 

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