Home run derby: Florida softball scatters four homers to blow by Stetson 8-0

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

After a weekend away from home, the 11th-ranked Florida Gators softball team returned to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium Wednesday night to host the Stetson Hatters in a midweek rematch of last week's game in DeLand.

Florida visited Stetson on March 22 and returned to Gainesville with a 4-1 win after the Hatters and Gators traded four consecutive scoreless frames to open the game. Florida finally broke the stalemate with a pair of runs in both the fifth and sixth innings.

This go 'round, however, the Gators wasted no time finding the scoreboard against the Hatters as Florida's lineup pounced on Stetson's junior left-hander Lauren Hobbs in the first inning with a pair of solo home runs from senior Charla Echols and sophomore Reagan Walsh.

Echols and Walsh's hits ignited the Gators to an 8-0, run-rule win over the Hatters, improving Florida to 25-7.

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Here are takeaways from Florida's midweek tilt against Stetson.

Gators have home run derby against Hobbs

Hobbs is no slouch of a pitcher.

Earlier in the year, Hobbs helped lead the Hatters to statement wins over South Carolina, Georgia and UCF. Coming into Wednesday night, Hobbs had an ERA of 2.39 and had 54 strikeouts across 82 innings. She had given up four home runs, never more than one in a game.

That all changed Wednesday as the Gators evidently brought their big bats out.

After having watched Echols and Walsh each notch solo home runs in the first, other members of Florida's lineup felt left out.

In her first at-bat of the night, Florida senior Sarah Longley struck a 1-1 offering from Hobbs and sent it beyond the leftfield wall, good for the Gators' third home run of the night and Longley's fifth of the season.

"I take nothing away from her," Florida head coach Tim Walton said of Hobbs. "I just credit our hitters tonight."

Come the bottom of the fourth inning, redshirt junior Skylar Wallace kept the home run derby going with the most damaging shot of the night − a two-run homer to right field, which increased Florida's lead to 6-0.

Some small ball in the bottom of the sixth would plate another pair of runs, which allowed Florida to polish off Stetson via a run-rule.

"We needed that," Tim Walton said. "We needed a day where we had everybody in the lineup hitting the ball pretty well. Even some of the outs were good."

Walton continues to toy with the lineup

For much of the season, Florida's lineup has looked the same.

Occasionally, depending on who was playing catcher and who was serving as the game's designated player, you'd see new names pop up here and there. But for the most part, it's been pretty consistent.

However, as of late, Walton and Florida's staff have been making adjustments to find what works best.

In a rough weekend at Arkansas that saw Florida lose the series 2-1, the Gators found success Saturday night as they moved Wallace up to the leadoff spot instead of the two-hole. Meanwhile, sophomore Kendra Falby, who generally leads off, was pushed down to the six-hole, and the Gators won, 11-4.

In Sunday's finale, Wallace and Falby returned to their typical spots in the lineup. The Gators ended up falling to the Razorbacks 14-1 Sunday, sending Walton and staff back to the drawing board to piece together the best batting order.

On Wednesday, the answer was flipping Wallace and Falby so Wallace led off and Falby batted second.

"I really was excited about trying to move Falby and Skylar around a little bit just to change up the dynamic with some speed and some opportunities for Skylar and some opportunities for Kendra," Walton said. "I thought that play went well. When Kendra gets on base, we win. That's just what happens almost always."

Together, Wallace (1-for-4) and Falby (3-for-4) combined for four hits and three RBIs on eight at-bats.

"I think it opens up a lot for me and Kendra with having the speed right there," Wallace said. "I think her as leadoff or me as leadoff is really good as long as we just find a way to get on base, it's going to create a lot of chaos."

Walsh filling the second-base void

It's easy to look at the production Walsh has had from the plate in her sophomore campaign.

Including Wednesday's 2-for-3 performance, which included a home run, being hit by a pitch and scoring a pair of RBIs, Walsh is batting .361 on the year.

But what's understated about Walsh's season thus far is her presence at second base.

As some may recall, the Gators were tasked with replacing their defensive stalwart, second baseman Hannah Adams, in the offseason. And many wondered if anyone was ready to step into those massive shoes.

"That was part of our preseason conversation leading into the first game of the season," Walton said. "If she wants to play on the infield with me, she's gotta be reliable, she's gotta be dependable, she's gotta check in with me every pitch."

Surprise. Walsh was ready.

Through 32 games, Walsh has had 102 chances in the field, second-most on the team. Of those, she's made a play on 101, while also having a hand in eight double plays, including one against Stetson Wednesday night.

"She's done a good job. We've made some good plays and she's turned some good double plays because she's got a really good throwing arm," Walton said. "I think she's played above probably her own expectations of what she can do at second base. She's been very steady, very dependable and has played a really good second base for us."