UF softball: Hitting woes hurt Gators, Tennessee wins opener of three-game series 6-0

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports
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It was a rough outing for the eighth-ranked Florida Gators softball team (26-4, 4-3 SEC) as it dropped game one of a three-game series with the No. 15-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers (21-8, 4-2 SEC) on Friday night from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. 

After a tight pitching duel through the first four innings, the wheels fell off for the Gators, who allowed six runs in the final three innings to fall to the Lady Vols 6-0. 

Here are three takeaways.

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Tennessee wins pitching duel 

Florida and Tennessee's starting pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts in the opening four innings of play. 

UF senior Elizabeth Hightower started in the circle for the Gators and had one of her better starts of the season as she tossed six strikeouts, walked three and gave up three runs in 5.2 innings of action. 

Tennessee fifth-year Erin Edmoundson hurled a game of her own against the Gators, finishing with a complete-game shutout. 

Florida's two- and four-hole hitters in fifth-year Hannah Adams and senior Charla Echols both had hitless nights, going a combined 0-for-6 against Edmoundson. 

"I said it at the beginning of the year, right before the season started... Our good players have to play well for us to be considered a good team this year," Florida head coach Tim Walton said. "It's just a fact. Our good players have to play well. And when they don't, it's really noticeable."

Florida redshirt junior Skylar Wallace was the only Gator to turn in a multi-hit night on Friday with a 2-for-3 performance from the plate. 

Edmoundson finished with five strikeouts, but forced the Gators to send nine fly balls into the air, which proved to be a key factor — especially when the Gators had runners on base. UF, which ended the night with five runners left on base, stranded three runners after fly outs.

"We've gotta put better swings on better pitches," Walton said. "That's been our downside to our bad at-bats. Too many lazy fly balls."

Gators chase fire in final four innings

After solid innings in the opening three frames that saw Hightower and the Gators give up just two hits, the Lady Volunteers began to make contact against pitches — often early in the inning. 

In the final four innings, Tennessee got the leadoff hitter on base, which helped spark the Lady Volunteers' offense down the stretch. 

"If you get a leadoff runner on base, the percentage of you scoring goes way up," Walton said. 

Though the Gators were able to get out of the fourth inning unscathed after giving up a leadoff single, the luck ran out in the fifth as Tennessee fifth-year Ashley Morgan launched a solo home run for the first run of the game. 

Tennessee went on to string together a two-run sixth inning after Hightower gave up a hit to freshman Lair Beautae, who went 4-for-4 from the plate. Hightower went on to walk a pair of Volunteers to load the bases for Morgan, who sent a two-RBI double down the left-field line. 

The Lady Volunteers' final two runs came in the seventh inning against fifth-year Marissa Messiemore, who gave up four hits and three runs in one inning of work. 

Tim Walton a fan of replay in softball

Friday night's game wasn't an easy one for the officials. 

Walton asked the the umpires to review a play, while Tennessee head coach Karen Weekly called to have two plays reviewed — something that wouldn't have been possible last season. 

In August 2021, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel made a change that allowed coaches two replays a game after years of coaches lobbying for the opportunity. 

"I think that the evolution of the game is going in a positive direction," Walton said. "I think if you would ask an umpire, they would always tell you that they want to get the call right."

Walton asked for another look at a play after UF freshman Kendra Falby was called out after trying to steal second in the bottom of the third inning. In a very close call, Falby was called out, which puts her at 22-for-25 on stolen bases this season. 

"I've never felt more confident in the dugout in SEC play with replay," Walton said. 

Looking ahead

The Gators will have an opportunity to even the series with the Lady Vols on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. 

Game three will be played on Sunday at 2 p.m. 

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