Gators softball: Emily Wilkie's walk-off grand slam lifts Florida to 7-3 win over USF

Ainslie Lee
The Gainesville Sun

Evidently, it wasn't in the cards for the No. 13-ranked Florida Gators and the University of South Florida Bulls to play two games this season.

Florida and USF were initially slated to meet in Tampa on Feb. 12 in a game that was postponed due to inclement weather. In its place, the Gators and Bulls were set to play a doubleheader at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium Wednesday night.

However, those plans would end up being scrapped as the Bulls' team bus suffered a flat tire in its northward trek to Gainesville, forcing the teams to settle for one game at 7 p.m. instead of a pair of games at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

"I'm a firm believer, when you get rained out, you get rained out for a reason," Florida head coach Tim Walton said. "It is what it is."

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Wednesday's reason might've been the fact that the first and only game of the night came down to the wire and ended in a walk-off grand slam, courtesy of junior Emily Wilkie. She lifted the Gators to a 7-3 win over the Bulls, improving Florida to 32-12 on the season. USF fell to 27-19.

Sarah Longley's walk sets the stage for Wilkie

With the game tied at 3 in the bottom of the seventh inning with the heart of the lineup due up, the recipe was there for Florida's fourth walk-off win of the season.

When Reagan Walsh led off with a base hit, the job became easier for those who followed her in the lineup.

Following Walsh's hit, graduate transfer Pal Egan drew a walk and sophomore Sam Roe advanced the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. With first base open, USF head coach Ken Eriksen decided to gamble and intentionally walk Sarah Longley, who entered the night batting .200 and had already notched a hit.

"Set up the double-play with a ground ball," Walton explained when asked what he thought Eriksen was looking for when he rolled the dice. "I thought the move was right. Set up the double play. You're the visiting team, that would've been a big deal."

Unfortunately for the Bulls, the very opposite happened.

"In the box, I was just trying to hit the ball hard," Wilkie said.

With the bases loaded, Wilkie hit the leather off a 2-0 offering from Valerie Ponn.

Ponn, who had hit a home run in the fourth inning, hadn't given up a home run from the circle prior to Wilkie's game-winning hit.

The game-winning hit was followed by quite the celebration both at home plate and beyond. Crowned with a headset for her postgame interview, Wilkie was approached by a stealthy Walton, who emptied a water cooler over her head.

"It needed to happen," Walton said. "I dumped half of it out in the dugout so that it wasn't as much. But she needed it. I want our players to get after stuff like that. We need to throw water on a kid when they do something cool like that. It's what it's for."

Reagan Walsh continues to settle into a Hannah Adams-sized hole

In the preseason, all the talk regarding Florida was how the Gators would replace their defensive stalwart at second base.

After five seasons of being Walton's right-hand, Hannah Adams graduated last year, leaving quite the void in the infield, as well as in the lineup.

Fortunately for the Gators, Walsh has been sure-footed from second base and boasts a .978 fielding percentage with three errors.

"Last year, watching Hannah Adams and how she carried herself and how she's such a great player overall ... Watching her and Skylar play the middle infield and how they do it, I think took some of their advice that they'd given me and put that towards this year," Walsh said. "Hannah Adams is such a great athlete so it's definitely an awesome experience to play second."

But the California native has become a force in the lineup. Wednesday was no different.

Walsh went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer in the first and the clutch leadoff hit in the seventh.

In her last five games, Walsh is 8-for-18 with six RBIs and a home run.

Gators pitching tandem continues with consistency

Florida's pitching has been pretty predictable these days.

Fifth-year senior Elizabeth Hightower will start the ball game and left-handed senior Rylee Trlicek will polish the game off.

In "if it's not broke, don't fix it" fashion, nothing changed Wednesday as Hightower recorded her 14th appearance and sixth start of the season.

Hightower worked through five innings, gave up four hits, three runs and struck out four. Two of USF's runs came off the same pitch as Ponn shot a two-run home run over the left-field wall to knot the game at 3 in the top of the fourth.

Trlicek entered the circle to start the sixth inning and was about as efficient as one could be, giving up one hit and requiring 17 pitches to get through seven at-bats.

Big road test ahead for the Gators

After winning their last pair of SEC series against Auburn and Georgia, the Gators will look to keep the ball rolling this weekend as they head to Knoxville, Tenn. They will face the fourth-ranked Lady Vols for a three-game slate that runs Saturday to Monday.