SOFTBALL

Florida softball: No. 8 Gators polish off Bubly Invitational with pair of dominant wins

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

It isn’t all too often you see the coach of the visiting team throw an honorary first pitch. But during the final day of Florida softball’s Bubly Invitational on Sunday, it happened twice.

Mercer head coach Lindsay Fico and Rutgers head coach Kristen Butler both toed the rubber at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium and tossed a pitch to the same home plate they used to step up to during their college careers as Gators.

Fico (formerly Lindsay Norfleet) threw out the first pitch ahead of Sunday’s opening game, which featured a matchup between Mercer and Louisiana-Lafayette.

“I told her she was responsible for the day. How she threw the first pitch out is how the day is going to go,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said.

And fortunately for the eighth-ranked Gators, Fico delivered.

 “She threw in a beautiful circle bullet right down the middle,” said Walton, who watched his team post a pair of run-rule victories Sunday, beating Louisiana-Lafayette 11-2 and Rutgers 10-1.

With Sunday’s wins, the Gators finished the weekend 4-1 with their only loss coming against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.

A look back at Friday night:Olivia Gigante posts career night as Gators down Mercer 14-3

Florida softball reunion:Former Gator returns to Gainesville as Mercer coach

Here are takeaways from Florida’s weekend at home.

New faces bring the bats for Florida

With a lineup that features player of the year watchlist members Charla Echols, Kendra Falby and Skylar Wallace, it would be reasonable to expect members of that group to lift the Gators week in and week out.

And while Florida’s veterans produced over the weekend as Echols, Falby and Wallace combined for 12 RBIs going 17-for-37 from the plate, it was a pair of new faces that stole the show as graduate transfer Pal Egan and freshman Olivia Gigante put together their best performances of their Gator careers.

Egan, who is affectionately known by her nickname “JUCO Bandit” joined Florida in the offseason. She started her college career at Vernon College before spending two seasons at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, where she was recognized as the Southland Conference’s player of the year in 2022.

Over the weekend, Florida fans got a good feel for Egan as she appeared in each of the games and snuck her way into the starting lineup for Sunday’s slate.

Egan went 3-for-9 from the plate over the weekend and notched a pair of home runs while tallying nine RBIs.

“This is the best week she’s had from a competitive standpoint, an offensive standpoint in the cages … a lot of things,” Walton said of Egan. “That’s why you see the at-bats. They just go up, up, up. Today she had a really good home run off a high-velocity kid, which is needed.”

Meanwhile, Gigante also put together a statement weekend after going 6-for-18 from the dish and knocking three home runs, good for eight RBIs.

Florida finished with nine home runs off five different player’s bats over the course of the five-game tournament, bringing its season total to 30.

Gators building a bullpen as defense continues to deliver

Florida gave up seven runs off 15 hits as Walton sent four different pitchers into the circle.

Fifth-year senior Elizabeth Hightower, who is often regarded as the Gators’ ace, started against Mercer Friday night and Louisiana-Lafayette Sunday afternoon, getting a combined 7.2 innings of work in and giving up five runs while tallying four strikeouts.

Graduate transfer Sam Bender also briefly appeared in Friday’s matchup against Mercer, helping the Gators polish off the Bears in a 14-3 drubbing.

But it was senior Rylee Trlicek and sophomore Lexi Delbrey who highlighted Florida’s efforts on the rubber as each notched no-hitters.

“We didn’t know what we were going to be,” Walton said of his pitching staff. “Now we’ve got Elizabeth, we’ve got Rylee, we’ve got Same, we’ve got Olivia and now here comes Lexie as she’s getting healthier and healthier.”

Trlicek hushed Mercer in five innings on Saturday as she hurled the second no-hitter of her career. She one walked batter away from a perfect game as she retired 15 of the 16 batters she faced on 51 pitches.

Come Sunday, it was Delbrey’s turn to notch the first no-hitter of her career as she downed Rutgers in five innings, giving up a walk and hitting one batter while also striking out four.

“She was good. She was really good,” Walton said of Delbrey, who is coming off an injury. “I’m excited … Her pitches are starting to go a little bit harder, starting to move a little bit more. She’s getting better and I think that’s pretty fun to see.”

Behind the Gators' pitchers is a stingy defense, which was highlighted by a pair of web gems from outfielder Katie Kistler Sunday afternoon.

"Katie Kistler kinda stole the thunder today with the two SportsCenter Top-10 catches," Walton joked.

Kistler made a retreating grab against the Ragin' Cajuns in game one of the day, only to follow it up by robbing a home run in the second game as Rutgers' catcher Katie Wingert connected with a Delbrey offering in the top of the fourth.

"I thought I almost blacked out. I was so excited my neck veins were coming out," Delbrey said of the catch. "I'm just so blessed to have such a good defense behind me."

Florida back on its feet heading into SEC play

When the Gators started playing on the opening night of the Bubly Invitational, they were 13 days removed from their less-than-desirable trip to the West Coast, where they went 1-3 in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.

Since then, Florida has gone 8-1 with its only loss coming 1-0 to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. The difference-maker in the loss to the Ragin’ Cajuns was a solo home run in the top of the fifth inning.

Fortunately for Florida, the Gators were able to avenge their lone loss of the weekend as they delivered Sunday’s 11-2 run-rule win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Florida will continue its homestand on Wednesday as it hosts Bucknell at 6 p.m.

Come Friday night, the Gators will open SEC play when the 23rd-ranked Missouri Tigers come to town for a three-game series spanning Friday to Sunday.