Delay doesn't hurt the Gators as Florida softball defeats UCF, 10-3

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

It may not have been a 27-hit affair like the first meeting this season between Florida and the University of Central Florida, but the Gators didn’t need it to be. 

A six-run second inning helped the No. 7-ranked Florida softball team (28-5) down UCF, 10-3, Wednesday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, extending UF’s record in non-conference games to 23-1 in 2022.

“I thought we came out and really set the tone early, getting the quick run and being able to add on pretty heavy in the second,” UF head coach Tim Walton said. “I thought overall we were good. Nice defensive plays. You can always get better in certain things.”

In improving to 9-1 on the season, Elizabeth Hightower allowed just six hits across 98 pitches in her five innings of action. Fifth-year graduate Natalie Lugo entered in the sixth in relief of Hightower to close the game.

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75 traffic causes game delay

The contest was initially scheduled for 6 p.m., but traffic near the junction of the Florida Turnpike and Interstate-75 delayed the Knights’ arrival in Gainesville by nearly an hour. As a result, first pitch was pushed back to 6:47 p.m., forcing those who had already arrived to find ways to pass the time — including the Florida players and coaching staff. 

The unpredictable scenario may have altered Florida’s pre-game preparation, though Walton had gotten slightly ahead of the curve in the build-up to the midweek bout between the two in-state programs.

“We don’t just go through pre-game, we have a whole day of stuff,” Walton said. “I told my team this yesterday, which is kind of ironic, that we’re an outside sport, so you have to be prepared for things that come up that are not in your control. It’s not in our control. They had some travel issues. We handled the travel issue delay better than we did last year, but overall I think they did a good job.”

Florida Gators' right-handed pitcher Elizabeth Hightower (22) throws the ball in the first inning in the game against the University of Central Florida on March 30, 2022 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

Steal away

Florida opened the scoring in the first inning when Charla Echols doubled to left-center field to score redshirt junior standout Skylar Wallace, who moments earlier had stolen second base to improve to 30-for-30 on the season in stolen base-attempts. With Wednesday's win, Wallace and freshman Kendra Falby have now combined for 53 of UF’s 82 stolen bases on the season.

“We love that from Skylar, and Kendra, too, when they both steal,” Hightower said. “We love it.”

UCF would get a run back at the top of the next frame before UF put six runs across the board in decisive fashion to take a commanding 8-1 advantage over the visiting Knights. 

“Definitely having that run support, just knowing that everyone has my back in those situations, it’s a really nice feeling,” Hightower said. “It’s more light, you have more fun as a pitcher. It probably makes me feel more comfortable with my pitches.”

But Hightower's night wasn't finished just yet. 

Rather than allow the Gators to secure a five-inning run-rule victory, the Knights (29-8) put a pair of runs on the board in the fourth inning when senior outfielder Denali Schappacher, a week removed from her 200th career hit, tripled to left-center field to drive home a pair of runs and trim UF's seven-run lead to a more manageable deficit. 

The Gators managed to get out of the inning without incurring further damage, and soon Lugo would step to the mound in relief of Hightower. 

Hannah Adams led the Gators at the plate with a trio of runs batted in, including a solo home run in the sixth inning. 

“She hit that pitch pretty well,” Walton said. “I think the big thing about Hannah Adams is, she’ll have a little bit of ebb and flow, up and down, but typically she’s not down for very long. That’s the thing I like about her, she’s very consistent.”

Up next

The Gators travel to No. 17 Auburn for a weekend series beginning Friday at 7 p.m. Saturday’s first pitch is set for 3 p.m., with the final game between the two SEC foes set for 2 p.m. Sunday. Florida will return home April 6 to take on rival Florida State, with the game scheduled for 6 p.m.