Florida softball bounced from SEC Tournament in shutout loss to top-seeded Tennessee

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

Coming into this softball season, the Florida Gators were considered the favorites to win the SEC after receiving five first-place votes from the conference's head coaches.

That was in January.

Four months later, the Gators finished the regular season with a losing conference record for the first time since 2002 and now they have made a second-round exit in the SEC Tournament after falling 4-0 to the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.

Friday's loss to the top-seeded Lady Vols, who clinched the SEC's regular-season title last weekend, saw the Gators struggle with the same ailments that have hindered them all season: less-than-spectacular pitching, costly errors and the lack of situational hitting.

Best in the league:Florida softball's Skylar Wallace named SEC Player of the Year

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Here's how it happened and what's ahead for the Gators.

Tennessee's Ashley Rogers wins situational battle over the Gators

The Gators seeing Tennessee ace Ashely Rogers likely didn't come as a surprise. Florida's lineup briefly saw Rogers in Game 1 of the Gators and Lady Vols' regular-season series on April 22 in a game that saw Rogers work though 2.1 innings, give up three hits, one run and strike out three.

On Friday, however, Rogers' outing lasted much longer as the veteran went the distance, giving up three hits and four walks while striking out eight.

Florida sophomore Kendra Falby found the most success against Rogers, going 2-for-4.

Meanwhile, redshirt junior Skylar Wallace, who was named the SEC's Player of the Year just hours prior, was the only other one on Florida's roster to notch a hit against Rogers. She went 1-for-3 with a walk and strikeout.

Thanks to Rogers' four walks and one hit batter, the Gators were able to plate runners. However, Florida went 1-for-12 with a runner on the base path and 0-for-4 with a runner in scoring position. The Gators stranded eight runners on the afternoon.

The Lady Vols were not much better, going 3-for-13 with runners on base and 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10.

No ball bounces Florida's way

Small ball in the first inning allowed Tennessee to scratch across the first run as Zaida Puni singled, McKenna Gibson walked and Rylie West reached on a fielder's choice to put runners on the corners with two outs. That set the stage for Lair Beautea to notch a RBI single for a 1-0 lead.

Rogers went on to put Florida down in order in the top of the second inning, forcing a flyout and a pair of strikeouts.

Florida starter Rylee Trlicek forced two groundouts to open the bottom of the second inning before the Gators committed their first of three errors. Katie Taylor sent a pitch out to third base, where fifth-year senior Charla Echols made an uncharacteristic fielding error, taking away what could've been a inning-ending out.

Instead, the Lady Vols had a runner on base for SEC home-run leader Kiki Milloy, who shot her 22nd homer of the season beyond the left field wall, stretching Tennessee's lead to 3-0.

The Gators would commit two more errors. Second baseman Sam Roe's flip to shortstop in the third inning would be a hair too high, and an errant throw by leftfielder Kendra Falby in the sixth would allow Puni to reach second base after her single to left.

Fortunately for Florida, the latter pair of errors wouldn't result in runs for Tennessee, though they did prevent the Gators from ever building any momentum.

Even when things started to go Florida's way, bad luck would strike again.

In the top of the fifth, it appeared as though the Gators would break up the shutout bid. Wallace blazed toward home as the Lady Vols committed a fielding error, sending the ball in the direction of the Tennessee dugout. But because the ball dribbled its way into the dugout, the play was called dead, forcing Wallace back to third base, where she'd be left stranded.

Florida now awaits NCAA fate

Following the Gators' second-round exit, they'll now wait for the NCAA's Selection Sunday show, which is set to be aired on ESPN2 Sunday night at 7.

Given Florida's record, it isn't likely the Gators have the resume to earn regional hosting rights, which is reserved for the country's top 16 teams. Florida currently sits at No. 22 in NCAA RPI, which takes into account a team's wins, losses and strength of schedule.

Florida is a shoo-in to make the NCAA Tournament, though the Gators will likely be hitting the road for regionals for the first time since 2004.