Senior moments: Florida Gators softball honoring four seniors during series vs. Arkansas
Florida softball picked a big weekend to celebrate its group of four seniors, who are to be honored ahead of game two against the seventh-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2).
The eighth-ranked Gators, who dropped the opener Friday at home 9-1, are recognizing fifth-year second baseman Hannah Adams, fifth-year pitcher Natalie Lugo, senior outfielder Cheyenne Lindsey and graduate student pitcher Marissa Mesiemore, who transferred in from Florida Gulf Coast this season. This weekend marks UF's last SEC regular-season series at home in 2022.
Fortunately, these veterans are no strangers to big moments.
Seniors' success calls for celebration
In their combined 10 seasons, Adams and Lugo have helped the Gators post an overall record of 173-44 with a pair of SEC regular-season titles, a pair of SEC tournament titles and a pair of visits to the Women's College World Series in their first four seasons.
Lindsey has been a part of 117 of those wins with a SEC regular-season title, a SEC tournament title and a trip to the WCWS under her belt.
In Mesiemore's short stint in Gainesville, she has helped the Gators polish off a number of opponents with her 22.0 innings of action that has featured 10 strikeouts and has helped her to a 2-0 record as pitcher and one save.
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"She's contributed very well, not only in game activity but in practice activity," Florida head coach Tim Walton said of Mesiemore. "And also has good, consistent personality."
Meanwhile, the journeys of Lindsey, Lugo and Adams in Gainesville have been much longer. And they haven't all been smooth sailing as the trio has faced injuries as well as the COVID-19 pandemic in their careers.
Perseverance the theme of Cheyenne Lindsey's UF career
For Lindsey, her Gators career got off to a rocky start when she suffered a torn ACL just before arriving to campus as a freshman.
"She started her career on a low note getting injured in travel ball before she got here," Walton said. "And then made the best of it."
What people don't realize about Lindsey's injury is that it wasn't simply a torn ACL. The Gators outfielder also tore part of her hamstring, which made an already grueling recovery process more difficult. After losing muscle mass, Lindsey had to learn how to walk and run again, which further delayed her return to the softball diamond.
But when she returned, she came by storm.
When Walton reflects on Lindsey's career, a few highlights come to mind.
In 2019, Lindsey broke up USF's All-American pitcher Georgina Corrick's no-hitter, which paved the way for the Gators to come through with a 1-0 victory over the Bulls.
Later that season, Lindsey smacked a two-out base hit to start the sixth-inning rally that beat the Alabama Crimson Tide and made the Gators back-to-back SEC Tournament champions.
"I think she's done a really good job of taking advantage of all the opportunity that she earned," Walton said.
Natalie Lugo comes in with big shoes to fill
The same can be said of Lugo, who came to Gainesville by way of West Covina, Calif., in 2018.
When Lugo arrived to campus, she sat behind one of the program's best pitchers in Kelly Barnhill for two seasons. Yet, though seeing limited action and serving primarily as a reliever, Lugo made the most of her role.
Lugo opened her UF career with a freshman season that saw her pitch just 32.0 innings with 39 strikeouts, six walks and 11 earned runs — good for a 2.41 ERA.
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"I think Natalie had just an okay freshman year," Walton said. "And then every year after that has been really good. ... Last year was instrumental in our SEC championship run."
Following her brief freshman campaign, Lugo saw her role expand as she went on to pitch for 277.4 innings, notching 290 more strikeouts to her career total.
Lugo pitched 66.1 innings against SEC competition in 2021, featuring 40 strikeouts and a 10-2 record with an additional save against conference opponents.
This season, Lugo has returned to her status as a primary reliever.
Hannah Adams is 'one of the best we've ever seen'
Adams' departure will leave a big hole — both in the field and lineup — for the Gators.
"That one is hard. I think that one is the toughest one," Walton said of losing the seniors.
Making matters tougher, Adams won't take the field against the Razorbacks after suffering a hand injury on April 15 that sidelined her for at least three weeks. The injury led Adams to miss the first game of her college career. Up to that point, she had played in every game in her five years in Gainesville.
Recruited as a shortstop, Walton and the Gators quickly molded Adams into one of the best second basemen in the nation.
Her first fielding error came in her sophomore season after having played a full season as a freshman.
"One of the best that we've ever seen," Walton said of Adams. "Just the combined speed, agility, flexibility with her body to be able to get into positions to throw the ball and then arm strength."
In her first four seasons with the Gators, Adams recorded 281 putouts, 365 assists and just 11 errors.
Defense helped Adams notch spots on the All-SEC defensive team in 2018 and 2021, as well as spots on the All-Freshman team and All-SEC first team in the same years.
And the All-American second baseman quickly became a mainstay toward the top of the Gators' batting order.
"To have gone from this defensive specialist-type player, to turning into an offensive power, " Walton said. "And just the ability to be so clutch in so many moments when we needed her."
Having delivered 18 game-tying runs throughout her career and three walk-off hits in 2021, Adams had emerged as a force from the batter's box coming into her final season with a .323 average, 200 career hits, 116 career RBIs and 20 career home runs.
Prior to her injury, Adams was on pace for another impressive year with a .329 average, 33 hits, 18 RBIs and two home runs.
"I didn't think I would have her for this long," Walton said, alluding to Adams' decision to stay for her extra year of eligibility after COVID-19. "It's an empty feeling going, 'Who's gonna play second base?'... because gosh, she's so good. She makes everybody better."