Softball: No. 7 Gators avoid sweep, top No. 5 Crimson Tide 12-7 in series finale
Monday night's series finale between the seventh-ranked Florida Gators and the fifth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide softball teams left many people wondering where that Florida team had been all week, with Florida head coach Tim Walton being one of them.
"I want that," Walton said after Monday night's game, gesturing to the locker room. "I want that. And we've had it a few times... we have."
Coming into Monday's matchup, the Gators had lost three straight games in a five-day window that began with a 4-2 loss to No. 2 Florida State on Wednesday, followed by a pair of losses to Alabama on Saturday and Sunday.
Had the Gators given up the sweep to the Crimson Tide, it would've marked the first time in Walton's 17-year tenure that he lost four straight games.
But after a big fourth inning, the Gators came through with a 12-7 win, keeping the historic loss at bay and getting them a much-needed return to the win column.
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Here are takeaways from Monday's series finale:
Florida's rookies rise to the occasion
Following Saturday's 8-3 loss to the Crimson Tide, Walton was asked if he felt that the Gators' young roster was a factor in the team's struggles against a talented Crimson Tide team.
"I didn't feel like youth was a factor," Walton said, adding that Alabama senior pitcher Montana Fouts is an obstacle all on her own.
And Monday night's showing proved that Florida's green lineup should be of little concern.
The Gators tallied 10 hits on Monday, with five of them coming off the bats of freshmen.
After falling behind three runs to the Crimson Tide, Florida freshman Reagan Walsh put the Gators on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second inning with a solo home run off Fouts.
"Montana always throws good," Walsh said. "I was kinda just looking for a pitch that was hard and down the middle and she gave it to me, so I just attacked it as best as I could and it just went my way this time."
Walsh finished the night 2 for 3 with four RBIs.
Meanwhile, fellow freshman Sam Roe continued her productive week in Monday's finale as she went 2 for 3 with a walk and two RBIs. And Roe's hits couldn't have come at better times.
The freshman catcher led of the bottom of the fourth inning with a bunt that popped up toward the catcher, but fell harmlessly to the clay, allowing Roe to reach first base.
What appeared to be a run-of-the-mill leadoff single, ended up being what ignited the Gators' offense en route to their six-run inning.
"Just get a spark going," Roe told herself. "Get a spark going and I know this team will light up. We have what it takes and we just needed that little push and we took off with it."
Wheels fall of for the Crimson Tide
Alabama opened the game with a two-run home run from sophomore Bailey Dowling in the top of the first inning to jump out on Florida early.
The Crimson Tide would go on to add a run in the top of the second with an RBI single from Ashley Prange, giving Alabama a 3-0 advantage over the Gators, who were able to get one back with Walsh's home run.
"It was huge getting that first run when Reagan hit the home run and then Elizabeth (Hightower) being able to gut out and get us back to even at 3-3... that was huge," Walton said. "I felt like if we went down again, I don't know how much more we can keep climbing. We've been climbing all week."
Alabama would tack on another pair of runs via a two-run home run from Prange in the top of the fourth, but after Florida got through with their fourth-inning at-bat, the Tide's pair of runs felt like they meant very little.
Led off by Roe's single, the Gators continued to pass the bat, while the Crimson Tide struggled in the circle.
Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy pulled Fouts (5 hits, 5 earned runs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts) from the circle after 3.1 innings and brought junior Lexi Kilfoyl to the rubber, only to yank her back out after she gave up one hit, one walk and three runs.
Sophomore Jaala Torrence was called to polish off the game, but continued to struggle as she allowed the Gators to scratch across two runs on wild pitches and another on a sacrifice fly from senior Charla Echols.
The Gators showed they can compete
Florida junior shortstop Skylar Wallace, who transferred from Alabama two seasons ago, has emerged as a leader for the Gators.
And if anyone wanted a win over the Crimson Tide, it was her.
"It feels good," Wallace said. "Obviously you want to go with the series win, but just to get after it and show that you're happy and just turn the page and just move on from your past and just start over... it's a new leaf, right? So it was good to come out here for a win."
The Gators could've folded on Saturday when they fell behind 7-0 in the third inning, but instead they orchestrated a three-run inning in the fourth.
Florida could've also folded when it gave up the series after losing a heartbreaker in extra innings on Sunday, but instead they came through with an impressive showing on Monday night to avoid the sweep — something that Wallace said was felt within the walls of the locker room heading into Monday's finale.
"The game is a game of failure. So sometimes you're going to get beaten down, but it's just how you come back at it and get after it the next day," Wallace said. "I think getting up this morning and all of us getting after it in our (batting practice) and pregame warmups, I think that's a big statement. It's not easy to beat a team. The SEC is hard. It's competitive. So just coming out here with the mentality to get after it and play as a team is what we did."