Florida softball continues NCAA run; Gators top Wisconsin 11-0 to win Gainesville regional
Making up for Saturday's long day that featured a near-four hour weather delay, the 14th-ranked Florida Gators softball team (46-16) made it a point to get off the field early on Sunday afternoon.
Paced by a 10-run opening inning, the Gators sprinted past the visiting Wisconsin Badgers (30-21) 11-0 in five innings to win the Gainesville regional and secure their spot in a super regional next weekend.
Here's how it happened.
Record-breaking first inning propels Florida
Florida freshman Kendra Falby led off the game with a single to the shortstop in what would be the first hit of 10 first-inning hits for the Gators.
The Gators strung together four consecutive hits, which chased Wisconsin starting pitcher Gabi Salo out of the circle after four at-bats.
"I think it all starts off with Kendra at the top of the lineup starting the momentum from the very beginning of the game," fifth-year second baseman Hannah Adams said. "Anytime she gets on base, it's huge momentum for us already."
Salo was relieved by Tessa Magnanimo, whose luck was no better against Florida's hot bats. The Gators continued to scatter hits against the Badgers, bruising the infield with hard-hit ground balls and well-executed bunts. Florida passed the bat all the way around the order with all but two batters notching hits in the first inning.
Falby and Hannah Adams each recorded a pair of hits in the first inning, while Reagan Walsh and Katie Kistler each knocked two-RBI hits.
Adams capped off her day with a perfect 4-for-4 performance from the plate, which tied her career-high for hits in a single game.
"I've honestly felt pretty good ever since I've been coming back," said Adams, who missed 13 games after a hand injury in April. "Just trying to keep it simple and not do too much."
Alongside Adams, Falby (3-4), Skylar Wallace (2-4, 3 RBI) and Charla Echols (2-4, 2 RBI) all turned in multi-hit performances.
Florida's 10 hits in the first inning gave the Gators their third consecutive regional game with 10 or more hits.
Lexie Delbrey confident in her first regional
Florida freshman Lexie Delbrey got the nod to start in the circle against Wisconsin after appearing earlier in the weekend against Canisius on Friday.
Immediately after watching her teammates piece together a 10-run inning that spanned 12 at-bats, Delbrey forced the Badgers down in order with a three-up-three-down inning.
Through four innings of work, Delbrey notched two three-up-three-down innings, one strikeout, gave up one walk and allowed just three hits to pick up her 15th win of her season.
"Lexie had one walk and threw some really good pitches," Walton said. "I think she did gain confidence. And did have that 10-run cushion, but she was still pitching too. I think the confidence was pretty clear."
Gators' seniors bask in possible last homestand
Though Delbrey had tossed just 57 pitches in her efficient outing and likely still had fuel in her tank, Walton went to the bullpen and had fifth-year senior Natalie Lugo take the rubber to polish the Badgers off.
"It's bittersweet," Lugo said. "Especially since it's five years instead of four years you're given to play here... The thought didn't even cross my mind that, 'Oh shoot, this could be my last pitch.'."
Lugo went on to work through one inning that saw her keep Wisconsin hitless, give up one free base and strikeout one.
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Meanwhile, with two outs to give in bottom of the fifth, Walton snatched senior Cheyenne Lindsey out of right field, triggering a standing ovation from the home crowd.
But the one everyone was waiting on was Adams, who exited the game with one out left. And like Lugo, Adams didn't realize what was at stake when she came to the field on Sunday.
"It didn't even cross my mind until my last at-bat," Adams said. "The fans were going crazy and chanting my name. They've never done that before... And then I was like, this could be my last at-bat here."
After winning the Blacksburg regional, the third-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies will welcome the Gators in the NCAA Super Regional in best-of-three series spanning from May 26 to May 29.