'That was legit': Skylar Wallace hits video game-like 3 home runs to lift UF softball over Georgia
There was a lot of red and black to be seen around Hull Road Friday night − and it'll remain that way all weekend as both the Gators' baseball and softball teams host the Georgia Bulldogs.
At Condron Family Ballpark, the baseball team is calling the week "rivalry week" after playing FSU earlier in the week and hosting Georgia this weekend.
Meanwhile, Florida softball coach Tim Walton isn't sure he'd stretch as far to say the Bulldogs are a rival of his team's.
"I don't know why, but I feel like rivals have a lot more hatred," Walton said. "And I don't feel like our sport has a lot of hatred."
If you're reading this and you're a Florida fan, before you pen a letter to Walton reminding him that Gators and Bulldogs don't get along, don't get it twisted.
"Georgia has beaten us here a couple of times to end our season, beat us one time in the World Series to end our season," Walton said. "That's something I don't forget. I think about those moments all the time."
Fortunately for Walton and the Gators, they wouldn't have another loss to the Bulldogs to mull over after No. 15 Florida topped No. 12 Georgia 13-4 in the first game of the series.
Here's how it happened.
Skylar Wallace is a cheat code
One of the initiatives this weekend at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium was replacing Florida's players' pictures with Tykes − cartoon-like illustrations that resemble each player.
And it was fitting considering Florida redshirt junior Skylar Wallace posted video game-like numbers in the series-opening win.
In Wallace's first at-bat, she battled 10 pitches from Shelby Walters before lifting a leadoff solo home run to get the wheels turning for Florida.
And to say that's the last the Bulldogs heard from Wallace, who hails from Georgia, would be quite the fib.
Instead, in her second at-bat, which came in the bottom of the second inning, Wallace attacked another pitch from Walters and notched a two-out, two-RBI home run to increase Florida's lead to 4-0.
Wallace's RBI single in the bottom of the fourth inning would be the "low spot" of her night, if you were forced to find one.
In her fourth and final at-bat, Wallace would cement her place in Florida softball lore. She crushed another pitch, sending it beyond the centerfield wall, good for a three RBIs and a run-rule walk off as the Gators' advantage stretched to nine runs in the sixth inning.
"It's gonna be hard," Walton said when asked if he could think of an offensive performance that would top Wallace's 4-for-4, three-home run and seven-RBI night against the Bulldogs.
In 2006, Missy Zick posted a 4-for-4 day against Illinois that saw her tally a program-high 11 RBIs off a pair of home runs, a double and a base hit. And while Zick's performance sticks out to Walton, there is a caveat.
"No offense, it's not against Georgia and it's not here at home in the SEC," Walton said. "That was legit. That was really, really cool."
Fortunately for the Wallace, her parents and her silver Labrador, Zeke, made the drive to Gainesville late Thursday night − something they don't do all that often.
"Good luck charms, huh?" Wallace said.
Florida's offense, as a whole, was steady
Earlier in the week, Walton stressed the importance of the Gators scoring early.
"If we score early in the game, the Florida Gators offense changes. It changes in a big way," he said.
Wallace's first home run served as a catalyst and paved the way for the Gators to continue to attack the Bulldogs.
Florida sophomore Sam Roe had opportunities to lead off innings twice and notched base hits both times.
"It was big," Walton said of Roe's leadoff hits. "Sam's at-bats were good. Then she gets a bunt down when I need her to get a bunt down."
Florida junior Avery Goelz also recorded a multi-hit night, going 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
As a team, the Gators out-hit the Bulldogs, 13-7. And of Georgia's seven hits, four came in the fifth inning as the Dawgs went on a brief, four-run rally to trim the Gators' advantage to two runs.
"To be honest with you, it's night and day," said Walton when asked how the team looks different with early runs on the board. "I don't see a lot mechanically, although confidence does impact mechanics at times. ... We're pedal to the metal. When we go, we go. Thirteen runs against one of the best teams in the SEC? That's a big deal."
How close to complete?
After watching the Gators pick apart the Bulldogs, it bid the question: How close to a complete game was Friday's showing for the Gators?
"We've had complete games, but I think this is the most solid game, all around, that we've had," Wallace said. "We know the SEC is really good and any school is really good and they're going to hit the ball. But we made the plays when they were needed, we scored the runs, we came back, they punched, we punched back harder. ... It was just finding ways to get the job done."
Last season, Florida battled a turbulent stretch of games heading into its series against LSU in Baton Rouge from April 29-May 1. The Gators would go on to clinch the series in what felt like the turning point of the season, which ended at the Women's College World Series.
While it's unclear if Friday's win over the Bulldogs will be the start of a similar ascent, it felt like a step in the right direction.
And there were (and will be) lots on hand to watch the weekend progress as the entire series is sold out, marking the first time in program history the Gators have sold out an entire series.
"I've seen this place when it's empty and I've seen this place when it's crowded and loud," Walton said. "People want to see winners and there's no secret about that."