UF softball: Gators drop series, but pick up game-three win over Lady Volunteers 4-1

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports

While the sixth-ranked Florida Gators softball team might've dropped the series to the No. 15 Tennessee Lady Volunteers after losing 0-6 on Friday and 2-7 on Saturday, the Gators (27-5, 5-4 SEC) avoided the sweep after coming away with a 4-1 win over the Lady Vols (22-9, 5-3 SEC) on Sunday from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. 

Up until this weekend, Florida hadn't lost a conference series since March of 2019, when the Gators hosted Tennessee in their first SEC series of the season. 

Florida's Skylar Wallace (17) hits for the Gators on Sunday afternoon during a game against Tennessee at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville.

UF Football:Takeaways from the Florida Gators’ sixth spring practice under Billy Napier

UF Gymnastics:Florida gearing up for NCAA regionals at Auburn

UF Basketball:Gators' Keyontae Johnson accused of sexual battery

Here are takeaways from the Gators' weekend on the diamond:

Hitting much improved on Sunday

The Gators struggled from the batter's box in their opening pair of games over the weekend, but started to find their bats in Sunday afternoon's win. 

Florida scattered the same number of hits on Sunday as it did in the first two games of the weekend combined. The Gators went 9 for 27 from the plate on Sunday after going a combined 9 for 48 the two games prior. 

Redshirt junior Skylar Wallace led the Gators in hitting over the weekend after going 4 for 8 with a double. Wallace played a big part in Florida avoiding the sweep on Sunday after a 2-for-2 performance that featured a double. 

Florida sophomore Avery Goelz also had an impactful weekend, going 3 for 6 from the plate and notching the second home run of her career on Sunday.

Florida head coach Tim Walton toyed around with the lineup some over the weekend, moving freshman Kendra Falby, who has hit leadoff a majority of the season, to the six hole on Saturday and the nine hole on Sunday. 

"At the end of the day, when you start to see a little pressure and temperature changes, you have to do what's best for the team first and the kid second," Walton said. "More than anything, just get Kendra in a position or a spot where she can just breathe a little bit."

Walton added that the freshman, who previously had the best batting average on the team, has been frustrated with her performances. 

Keeping leadoff at bay proves key to success

Just as Walton said following the Gators' loss to the Volunteers on Friday night, the chances of scoring a run improves exponentially when the leadoff reaches base. 

And that proved true for Tennessee over the weekend.

The Vols got a leadoff hitter on base in the final four innings of Friday's game and in five of seven innings on Saturday. 

Meanwhile, in Sunday's game, Tennessee's leadoff only reached base once.

Florida Gators' right-handed pitcher Elizabeth Hightower (22) throws Sunday afternoon during a game against Tennessee at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. [Gabriella Whisler/Special to the Sun]

Florida's senior ace in righty Elizabeth Hightower started in the circle for the Gators on Sunday and pitched for 4.1 innings that saw her give up just two hits and one run, while striking out five batters. 

Meanwhile, fifth-year right-handed pitcher Natalie Lugo appeared for 2.2 innings of solid relief, which is something Walton hoped to see from the veteran. 

"I thought by giving her some more relief stuff, her stuff could potentially improve," Walton said. "The design was to have her throw all three games in relief and see how that went, but we didn't play well enough to put her in the first two days."

Lugo finished Sunday having given up no hits, walking one batter and striking out two in seven at-bats. 

Gators focusing on controlling the controllables 

Wallace, who transferred from Alabama, has emerged as a leader in Florida's dugout, which is a role she assumed in 2021 after being ruled ineligible to play due to SEC transfer rules.

And it's a fitting role for Wallace considering her competitive nature and experience in SEC softball. Given both, Wallace was able to rally the team together prior to Sunday's game to avoid the sweep. 

"I think we did little thing different than we did the past two days," Wallace said following the win. "Just really staying on top of ourselves. I think we really let a lot of things that we can't control influence us on Friday and Saturday. And that got us off our game."

Looking ahead, the season doesn't get any easier for the Gators. 

They'll host UCF on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in a rematch of Feb. 17's high-scoring affair that saw Florida squeak out a 12-11 win. 

And after their midweek tilt, the Gators will travel to Auburn to take on the 18th-ranked Tigers.

"I think the main thing we said was, 'Control our family, ' " Wallace said. "Whatever happens is what's going to happen and just do what we need to do."