Florida softball: Gators survive and advance in SEC tournament with 4-1 win over Texas A&M

Ainslie Lee
Gator Sports

Tim Walton was hired just weeks after the last time the Florida Gators hosted the SEC softball tournament in 2005, making for a special experience for the Gators' 17-year head coach. He watched LSU and Mississippi State duke it out from the treadmill in his office. 

"I got 45 minutes on my treadmill during the LSU game today," Walton joked. "I built an office that overlooks a field to watch stuff. And I got to watch a game from my treadmill for a while and it was really cool."

LSU went on to be upset by Mississippi State 7-4 in nine innings on Wednesday afternoon, which pushed back Florida's matchup with Texas A&M more than two hours. But it was worth the wait as the fifth-seeded Gators (42-15, 13-11 SEC)  went on to beat the Aggies (29-26, 6-18)  4-1, advancing to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. 

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Here are three takeaways from the win from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

Hannah Adams returns in Hannah Adams' fashion

Florida Gators infielder Hannah Adams (1) slides in to second base as Gators play the Texas A&M Aggies at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. [Gabriella Whisler/Special to the Sun]

After sustaining a hand injury on April 15, Florida's veteran second baseman Hannah Adams was bound to a cast, forcing her to miss 13 games — the first 13 games she'd missed in her five-year college career. 

However, Adams returned to the starting lineup Wednesday night, taking back her post at second base, as well as the No. 2 spot in the Gators' lineup. 

A sizeable home crowd welcomed her back. 

"That was a really cool experience that made me nervous at first," Adams said. "I thought it was really cool to have all their support after being out for that time." 

Adams recorded one putout and assisted three others in the win over Texas A&M. 

But perhaps Adams' biggest contributions came from the batter's box as she went 2-for-3 on the night, including a well-executed bunt in her first at-bat to ignite the Gators' offense. 

Walton couldn't help but throw his head back with a sarcastic laugh when asked if having Adams back in the lineup changed things for the offense. 

"It does," Walton said. "There's no question."

Texas A&M can't stop what it can't catch

Florida's speed has been hot topic all season. The additions of junior transfer Skylar Wallace and freshman Kendra Falby bolstered the Gators' baserunning to heights that have this year's squad chasing the program's single-season stolen-base record.

The record sits at 129 and this season's group is at 122 after three against the Aggies. 

"It's what we are," Walton said of Florida's speed. "We played how we play today. We didn't play to our opponent. We didn't play against our opponent. We did what we do." 

Base running paced the Gators to an early lead as Falby and Adams executed a double steal from third base and first base, respectively. 

Falby thieving home plate scratched across the first run of the game for Florida, which went on to add two more runs as the Gators passed the bat to eight different batters, with senior Charla Echols and freshman Reagan Walsh each notching RBI singles. 

"Kendra was the reason," Walton said. "She made all the cool highlight plays. Because she's good. We just let her be good and she did it tonight. Ultimately that's the difference in the ball game."

On the heels of stealing home, Falby went on to knock a double in the bottom of the second and was driven home by a single from Adams to bring across the Gators' fourth run and final run of the contest. 

UF bullpen pitches in and out of trouble

The Florida Gators celebrate their win over Texas A&M at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.

The Gators started senior ace Elizabeth Hightower and the righty quickly found herself chasing fire after opening the game with back-to-back walks. But Hightower and the Gators' field went on to get away unscathed, forcing a pair of flyouts and a fielder's choice. 

That was the theme of the evening as Florida gave up a leadoff base in the first four innings, but worked their way out out of it — twice thanks to double plays. 

"Just being able to minimize the damage and the two double plays were super huge," Walton said. "The key is obviously being able to do the things that we did. Some really good defensive plays."

Hightower finished the night after 5.1 innings of action that saw her give up three hits, one earned run, walk five and strikeout one. 

Walton called upon junior Rylee Trlicek (1.1 IP, 1 K) and fifth-year Natalie Lugo (0.1 IP, walk) to polish off the game, which ended with the tying run at the plate in Texas A&M's leadoff hitter, senior Haley Lee. 

"Got ourselves into trouble, but found a way to wiggle out of it," Walton said. 

Looking ahead

Following their 4-1 win over Texas A&M, the Gators will line up against the fourth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, who earned a first-round bye. The Gators and Wildcats are scheduled to get underway Thursday night at 5 p.m. (SEC Network).