No. 15 Gators softball takes series against No. 12 Georgia in record-setting weekend
The No. 15-ranked Florida Gators softball team (31-11, 8-7 SEC) polished off another weekend at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium as it hosted the 12th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (33-10, 12-5 SEC) for a three-game SEC series.
And if welcoming what many fans would deem a bitter rival wasn't enough to get fired up about, Tim Walton and his Gators pieced together a special weekend that saw players post legendary performances, the first ever three game-series sellout in program history and Florida pick up its second consecutive series win.
The Gators topped the Bulldogs 13-4 and 8-7 in games one and two before dropping the finale 8-2.
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Here are takeaways.
Build it and they will come
The Gators' softball stadium is just more than four years removed from its $15 million renovation, a facelift that included the addition of the 360-degree concourse, improved amenities for players and staff and an additional 850 seats.
Including the berm and the standing area behind the outfield wall, it claims an overall capacity of approximately 2,800.
Over the weekend, Gators fans put a majority of the stadium's seating options to good use as 7,168 filed in and out of the ballpark, the highest-attended three-game series in Florida softball history.
"We come out of hitting and I felt like they'd opened the gates to Disney World," Walton said. "Everyone is running and you can hear all the feet hitting the stairs and running around the stadium. ... That's what's been so fun about college softball is just the growth over the years and the excitement level."
On Sunday, 2,523 fans funneled into the gates, the third-most attended game in program history and the second-highest for the regular season.
Wallace's weekend adds to POY campaign
In January, Florida put three players on the 2023 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watchlist, which features the names of 50 players from all around the country.
For the Gators, it was fifth-year senior Charla Echols, sophomore Kendra Falby and redshirt junior Skylar Wallace. And while each has shown why they made the list in bursts, Wallace has been steady all season.
"I'm confident in myself and my abilities," a humble Wallace said. "At the same time, I'm just trying to have fun. You only get to play college softball one time and be around this group of girls one time. Just finding ways to do what I can to help us win and take us to the World Series."
And after her weekend showcase against the Bulldogs, Wallace's stock is surely rising.
To recap, Wallace went 4-for-4 Friday night with three home runs and seven RBIs. Saturday, Wallace notched a solo home run and drew a pair of walks.
Come Sunday, Georgia's pitchers weren't interested in pitching to Wallace, who drew a walk in three of her four at-bats. She also had a base hit in the bottom of the seventh to help spark a Florida rally that would quickly stall.
"I was just being really selective and I knew they didn't want to put anything close," said Wallace. "If they walk me, that's fine because it's pretty much a double at that point because I'm going to make you throw me out at second."
On the year, Wallace is 24-for-25 on stolen base attempts, including 3-for-3 over the weekend.
"She's just so dynamic," Walton said of his shortstop. "She's a very disciplined hitter that can do so many things athletically that can't be taught. I think that's what makes her and maybe a couple of others just in a different category. She just does so many things. It's super impressive."
The scary part? Wallace's performance trajectory is still on the rise.
"She's hitting another gear," Walton said.
Home runs, lack of situational hitting leads to finale loss
Sunday's 8-2 loss to Georgia reminded us that Florida still has its flaws.
Walton has said in the past that the Gators' pitching staff must keep the ball in the yard. That's the case for every game, but especially when facing a lineup like the Bulldogs, who entered the series with 64 home runs.
Florida pitchers Elizabeth Hightower and Rylee Trlicek successfully kept the ball in play during Friday's run-rule win.
However, the Gators gave up a pair of home runs in both Saturday and Sunday's games − a result of having to use two arms pretty consistently.
"Without Rylee and Elizabeth, we wouldn't be sitting here," Walton said. "They've done a good job and have really pitched well. But how many times can you see the same two arms? It's tough. ... They're competing their butts off and they're constantly trying to get better and give us a chance to win."
Hightower gave up a walk and immediately followed by giving up a home run to Jayda Kearney in the top of the third to stretch the Bulldogs' lead to 4-0.
"I tell my guys all the time, 'You can give up a solo home run.' It is what it is, they're good hitters," Walton said. "But we don't go walk, home run. I hate that."
Meanwhile, on the offensive side, the Gators couldn't find their groove.
Despite getting a leadoff runner on base four times, Florida only managed to drive in two runs thanks to a two-RBI double from sophomore Reagan Walsh in the fifth inning. The Gators ended the afternoon having recorded five hits and stranding seven runners.
Wallace, despite her brilliant weekend, put her competitiveness on display in saying she felt disappointed the Gators couldn't polish off the weekend with a sweep.
"We got a little lackadaisical in our approaches," Wallace said. "We got too caught up in the things we were doing wrong and what we needed to do rather than just go out there swinging. We've faced the same pitchers all weekend. It's not like they came out here with new pitches. We got caught up too much in ourselves and that hurts a little bit because we should've walked away with a win."