Gators softball: Florida opens season with five straight run-rule wins, a program first

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

When the third-ranked Florida Gators' softball team returned to the dirt of Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Wednesday night, it was business as usual with the exception of a few minor changes around the facility.

Along the left-centerfield wall, Florida added "2022" to the display recognizing each of the Gators' Women's College World Series appearances. But that was far from the biggest change.

In mid-January, the program received a generous donation from longtime Gators softball fan Clare Peacock, allowing Florida to put up a new scoreboard over the left-centerfield wall. The new, larger Daktronics LED videoboard, which measures 23-feet high and 41-feet long, is hard to miss.

And Gators softball fans got their first look as Florida hosted Jacksonville University in its 2023 home opener.

"It looks good," Florida head coach Tim Walton said. "The field looked really nice, the crowd was big and strong."

Between the facility improvements and the Gators' 11-0 five-inning win over the Dolphins, the many Florida fans who attended left the stadium fired up for the campaign ahead. And for good reason.

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Here are takeaways from Florida softball's first win on its home turf.

Fifth run-rule win marks a program first

Up 7-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning with no outs, Florida fifth-year senior Charla Echols ripped a pitch up the gut, scoring redshirt junior Skylar Wallace from second base and giving the Gators an eight-run lead over the Dolphins (3-3).

In college softball, an eight-run margin through five innings calls for a early ending, giving the leading team a run-rule victory.

With Echols' hit, the Gators had what they needed, barring Jacksonville didn't put runs on the board.

But before Jacksonville could get to its next, and potentially final at-bat, Florida added insurance runs with a three-run home run off the bat of junior Emily Wilkie, who sent the very first pitch she saw of the night over the left field wall.

"Emily's got tons of juice," Walton said. "But it's tough to do that at a pinch-hit role. It isn't an easy thing to do. First pitch? Boom."

Now leading 11-0, the Dolphins would need at least four runs to stay out of a run-rule situation.

But Florida freshman Olivia Gigante, who made her Katie Seashole Pressly debut, and the Gators' defense kept Jacksonville from scratching across a run.

Florida's five-inning run-rule victory over Jacksonville marked the first time the Gators started their season with five-consecutive run-rule wins.

"I wouldn't say it's what we expected," Echols said when asked about Florida's early dominance. "But we expect to go into every game and score runs. And we've been doing that so far."

Florida has found its 'pop'

The Gators weren't a heavy-hitting team last season.

Florida hit 37 home runs last season − a mark that sat them in last place in the SEC and well off the mark of the national championship-winning Oklahoma Sooners, who hit 155.

Walton and the Gators not only took note of that, but they implemented a plan to change it in 2023.

"I think we really looked at all phases of our game and really tried to identify ways in which we could improve, get stronger, get better," Walton said.

He added that the Gators took a look at how they were coaching, how they were training in the weight room, as well as adding a few pieces of technology to their training.

And so far, it's seemed to pay off.

Through five games, the Gators have recorded 10 home runs − two of which came on Wednesday thanks to a pair of three-run homers, one each from Echols and Wilkie.

Last season, it took Florida 16 games to reach the 10-home run mark.

"This isn't surprising to me," Walton said. "We hit the ball hard tonight."

Trlicek, Florida pitchers more relaxed with high-powered offense

As a pitcher, it's hard not to find comfort in playing for a team that has put up 65 runs in five games.

"It's definitely probably the best problem to have," said Florida senior pitcher Rylee Trlicek. "We feel like we can take a breath between innings and just let them do their thing."

After Trlicek pitched a four-batter, one-hit first inning, Florida's offense broke open the scoring, plating two runs in the bottom of the first.

In her second trip to the circle, the left-handed Texan, who warmed up to Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman," put the Dolphins down in order after forcing a ground out, a pop out and a fly out on five pitches.

"They're there for us, we're there for them," Trlicek said. "Just on the pitcher's side, they can hit but they can also play defense. As most of you know, I don't get too many strikeouts so they're literally right there behind my back every single pitch."

Trlicek, whose claim to fame is forcing groundouts and pop outs, recorded two strikeouts in the win, while also giving up a pair of hits in four innings of work.

Gigante polished off the game with one inning of action, walking a pair of batters before settling in and forcing the game-ending fly out.

After beating Jacksonville, Florida now turns its attention to a five-game weekend as it hosts the T-Mobile Invitational, which spans Friday to Sunday.