Next up: Women's College World Series! Gators rout Virginia Tech in NCAA Super Regional
Florida softball head coach Tim Walton calls the Gators' come-from-behind win over LSU on May 1 the turning point of Florida's up-and-down season.
After striking out four times in the game, Florida senior Cheyenne Lindsey delivered the game-winning home run in her fifth at-bat — which also gave Walton his 1,000th career victory.
Ever since then, the Gators have believed that they can beat anyone.
The night before Florida's winner-takes-all game against Virginia Tech on Sunday, redshirt junior Skylar Wallace took to Twitter.
"This team. Don’t count us out," Wallace tweeted. "Let’s finish this Gators!!!"
Wallace's tweet came on the heels of Florida evening the series with Virginia Tech with a 7-2 victory on Saturday.
And the 14th-ranked Gators surely finished it Sunday as they punched their ticket to the Women's College World Series with a 12-0 run-rule victory over the No. 3-seeded Hokies, making for the most lopsided Super Regional score in history.
Here are takeaways from Game 3.
Gators capitalize on Hokies' early errors
The first ball that was put into play against the Virginia Tech field came off the bat of Florida freshman Kendra Falby, who sent a hit out to shortstop Rachel Castine.
Castine, who has only started four games and has appeared in 10, made a throwing error over to first base, which allowed Falby to race over to second base.
After forcing a pair of outs, the Hokies committed another costly error, allowing Florida senior Charla Echols to reach and Falby to come across home plate and give the Gators a 1-0 lead.
Virginia Tech went on to commit a third error in the top of the third, which ended up being Florida's most explosive inning.
Florida blows the game open in the third inning
By the third inning, the Gators had manufactured a 4-0 lead, but knew they weren't out of the woods just yet.
The inning prior, the Hokies threatened to cut the lead in half as they plated a pair of base runners with two outs before the Gators forced Virginia Tech to strand them.
Florida came to bat in the top of the third looking for insurance runs, but instead blew the doors off Tech Softball Park as the Gators passed the bat all the way around the order, delivering four hits, two walks and six runs.
“We all came up there with a plan, ready to go from the start,” Wallace said. “It was really just executing our plan and finding pitches to drive.”
A leadoff walk for Florida freshman Reagan Walsh ignited the six-run rally as Lindsey (2-3) and sophomore Katie Kistler (2-3) immediately followed with a pair of base hits, which loaded the bases for freshman Sam Roe (0-2, RBI), who delivered a sacrifice fly out to right field, which scratched across Walsh.
The Gators continued to pour on runs as sophomore Avery Goelz (2-2, 3 RBIs) issued a RBI fly out, while Wallace (3-4, 4 RBIs) and Echols (2-4, 2 RBIs) each notched two-RBI singles, giving Florida a lopsided 10-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third inning.
Florida's offensive production paved the way for the Gators to become the first team to put up double-digit runs on the Hokies this season.
The Gators' lineup would add another run in the each of the final innings as Goelz notched an RBI single in the fourth and Wallace smoked a solo-home run in the fifth — good for her eighth of the season.
UF's pitchers, defense pull their weight
In a surprising decision, Walton gave freshman pitcher Lexie Delbrey the nod to start in the circle for the Gators, who leaned on Delbrey to lift them to a win in Game 2 on Saturday.
After pitching 4.1 innings on Saturday, Delbrey returned to the circle on Sunday to pitch 2.1 strong innings.
“Lexie gave us a chance to win today and it’s really special to have a freshman toe the rubber on the road, in an elimination (game),” Walton said.
In her first trip out to the circle, Delbrey put the Hokies down in order as she forced a pop out and gave up a walk before Virginia Tech's Jayme Bailey grounded into a 5-4-3 double play that was executed by Echols, Adams and Goelz.
Delbrey gave up her first and only hit to Virginia Tech's Morgan Overaitis, who was left stranded on second in the bottom of the second.
As the wheels began to fall off for Delbrey, who pitched a combined 6.2 innings in Games 2 and 3, the rookie was relieved by fifth-year senior Natalie Lugo, who pitched another gem in relief on Sunday.
Lugo, who saw 2.2 innings of relief on Saturday, worked for 2.2 innings on Sunday and gave up one hit, while effectively keeping the shutout alive for the Gators.
And while Florida's pitchers will be credited with the shutout, with only a pair of strikeouts on the day, there were still plenty of balls sent into play, where the hardnosed Gators' defensive unit went on to prove why it's often viewed as one of the nation's best.
Florida turned a pair of double plays in Sunday's win, bringing its Super Regional tally out to five.
Gators headed to the big dance
For the 11th time in program history, Florida softball will head west to Oklahoma City as one of eight participants in the Women's College World Series.
“I thought we had some good spots this season, but we really never have been a great team. And we’re gelling, we’re meshing, we’re moving," Walton said. "And now this team’s got a chance to compete for a national championship in Oklahoma City.”
This season's visit will be the Gators' first since 2019.
No. 14 Florida is slated to see unranked Oregon State in the opening round of the World Series, which gets underway on June 2 from OGE Energy Field at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex.