Softball: Montana Fouts leads Crimson Tide to series-opening win over the Florida Gators
It was another tough opponent and another tough loss for the seventh-ranked Florida softball team on Saturday as Florida fell to No. 5 Alabama 8-3 in game one of the three-game conference series.
Saturday evening's loss came just three days after the Gators fell to second-ranked Florida State 2-4 in 10 innings.
Here are takeaways from Saturday night's matchup.
Softball showdown:No. 2 Florida State gets best of No. 7 Florida in extra innings
Gators and Crimson Tide show up in droves
As the saying goes, "build it and they will come."
As Florida and Alabama have built two of the countries most dominated and decorated softball programs, it was no surprise when the University Athletic Association announced that the Gators and Crimson Tide combined for the second largest crowd in the history of Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
Saturday's announced attendance was 2,609.
Montana Fouts hurls complete-game gem
As everyone expected, the Crimson Tide started the series with their senior ace Montana Fouts in the circle.
Fouts, who ranked 13th in the nation for strikeouts with 165 heading into Saturday, was named Pitcher of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association last season and has not disappointed this year.
Through Alabama's 36 games heading into Gainesville, Fouts has pitched 98 innings and given up just 28 earned runs, good for an ERA of 2.00.
And like she's done to all her opponents, Fouts gave the Gators' lineup trouble in the early frames.
Fouts tallied five strikeouts in the opening three innings — including striking out the side in the bottom of the first.
Though the Gators' lineup is composed of five underclassmen, head coach Tim Walton didn't feel that had a major impact on Florida's struggles.
"I didn't feel like youth was a factor," Walton said. "Again, you've got one of the women's national team pitchers in the circle, an All-American."
Fouts finished with 11 strikeouts, while the Gators were able to muster just four hits.
Alabama offense pops off in the third
Florida starting pitcher Elizabeth Hightower held her own at the start of the game as she hurled three straight strikeouts to retire the Crimson Tide in the top of the first inning.
But the senior righty's performance started to fold in the second inning as Hightower gave up three hits and a walk to Alabama, which capitalized on its way to a 2-0 lead.
Hightower worked her way out of the inning as the Crimson Tide stranded two base runners, but later gave up a hit and walk in her next trip to the circle, triggering a pitching change for the Gators.
Florida sophomore Haley Pittman relived Hightower in the third, which ended up being an inning that snowballed into a seven-run deficit for the Gators.
Alabama freshman Jenna Lord plated a pair of runs for the Crimson Tide with a double to right centerfield, followed by a two-RBI single off the bat of fifth-year Kaylee Tow.
"They hit balls where we weren't," Walton said. "They found a way to get the ball down the line, the ball in the 5-6 hole a couple of times, and in the third it was a couple of elevated pitches that they hit to the outfield... Just good pieces of hitting and probably not good enough pitches."
Gators find groove in fourth inning
After a pair of uncharacteristic walks from Fouts to open the fourth inning, the Gators looked to have had something brewing with no outs.
With runners on first and second, Florida senior Charla Echols sent a 1-2 offering up the middle, scoring junior Skylar Wallace from second base to scratch across the Gators' first run of the night.
Florida freshman Reagan Walsh continued the rally with a RBI double to right centerfield, followed by a walk from senior Cheyenne Lindsey, which loaded the bases with no outs.
A strikeout and a flyout would put two against Florida sophomore Katie Kistler, who managed to drive in another run with a base hit that pushed through the left side.
But another strikeout from Fouts would get her and the Crimson Tide out of the jam and force the Gators to strand three.
Florida would record just one hit through the final three innings as Fouts settled back in and added four more strikeouts to her night — keeping the Gators from catching back up to the Tide.
"I saw a team that capitalized a little bit better on their opportunities," Walton said of Alabama.
The Gators will have an opportunity to even the series on Sunday afternoon when they and the Crimson Tide return to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium at 4 p.m.
The series' finale is Monday night at 7.