'Have to win the first game': Natalie Lugo, Florida roll past Oregon State in WCWS opener

Nick Sardis

Florida’s Natalie Lugo wasn’t in an ideal situation when she took over in the circle against Oregon State. 

With no outs and the bases loaded in the top of the second inning, the fifth-year senior had replaced Lexie Delbrey as the Gators trailed by a run. 

Oregon State’s offense was hot, and the Beavers had all the momentum. 

But the tide turned after Lugo got the ball. 

The 5-foot-4 right-hander got three straight outs to get out of the inning, and 14th-seeded Florida went on to roll to a 7-1 victory in its Women’s College World Series opener on Thursday at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium. 

Florida (49-17) will play Oklahoma State (47-12) at 6 p.m. Saturday. Oregon State (39-21) will face Arizona (38-21) in the elimination matchup at 8:30 p.m. Friday. 

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Florida's Cali Decker (35) celebrates a double next to Oregon St.'s Kiki Escobar (29) during a Women's College World Series softball game between the Oregon State Beavers and the University of Florida  at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Thursday, June, 2, 2022.

“If you want a chance to compete for a national championship, you have to win the first game,” Florida coach Tim Walton said. “It's really tough not to. I don't even know when we play next. It's funny, the new formula, I'm not even sure when we go.” 

Lugo allowed just one hit over six scoreless innings and finished with six strikeouts. She settled in, got into a rhythm and shut down Oregon State’s hitters. 

“I felt like all my pitches were working pretty well,” Lugo said. “When the off-speed is on, I feel like I can get a lot of outs pretty quickly, pretty easily, and let my defense work. So that was the game-changer for me personally and what helped.” 

First baseman Avery Goelz was the Gators’ offensive star. The sophomore got the Gators on the scoreboard with a grounder that slipped past Oregon State first baseman Frankie Hammoude with two outs in the second frame. Two Florida runners scored on the error, and the Gators led the rest of the way. 

“We all took a deep breath after that inning,” Goelz said. “At the end of the day, we all knew we were going to score runs. We have good confidence in our offense right now. Once we finally got the first two runs across, it was even more relaxed, and then we all just kind of went after it after that.” 

Florida added two more runs on a Goelz single in the fourth and blew things open in the fifth. 

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Florida coach Tim Walton and Charla Echols (4) celebrate after she reached third base during the fifth inning of an NCAA softball Women's College World Series game against Oregon State on Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Oklahoma City.

Third baseman Charla Echols hit a solo homer over the center-field wall before pinch hitter Cali Decker and Goelz each had an RBI single. 

Lugo (11-5) earned the win, while Oregon State starter Sarah Haendiges (13-7) took the loss. 

Haendiges allowed 10 hits and seven runs, four earned, in 4⅔ innings. Tarni Stepto pitched the remainder of the game for the Beavers and gave up three hits.

Mariah Mazon, Oregon State’s ace pitcher and a first-team All-Pac 12 selection, did not play Thursday. The senior is a key player for the Beavers both in the circle and offensively. 

“The big elephant in the room,” Oregon State coach Laura Berg said. “No, I cannot say why she was not here. She's just unavailable today. Hopefully, we'll have her tomorrow. It's just some unfortunate circumstances out of her control that she was not able to be here today.” 

Oregon State’s players didn’t make any excuses after the loss. 

“I think we all have a lot of confidence in Sarah,” said Hammoude, who drove in Oregon State’s lone run.  

“So obviously, we lost a bat in the lineup, but we all knew it was going to take all of us to win here, so I don't know. I think we've been dealing with this kind of stuff all year with injuries, all that type of stuff. It didn't really faze us too bad.” 

Oregon State is in the WCWS for the second time and last made it in 2006. 

Florida has made 11 trips in the last 15 seasons and won championships in 2014 and 2015.

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