Florida softball: No. 14 Gators clinch fourth SEC series with wins over Ole Miss
The 14th-ranked Florida Gators softball team took the dirt of Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium for their final SEC homestand as the Ole Miss Rebels came to town for a three-game slate spanning Friday to Sunday.
It was a wild ride as the Gators (34-16), 10-11 SEC) won 2 of 3 to return to the win column after a four-game skid that featured a sweep at Tennessee and a midweek loss to No. 4 Florida State Wednesday.
Sky high:Florida softball's Skylar Wallace earns pair of weekly awards after red-hot week
Sunshine Showdown:Florida State softball wins 4th straight over Florida
Here are takeaways from the weekend of action.
Gators' hitting goes for a roller-coaster ride
Florida's offense has been surefooted for the majority of the season. The Gators are No. 2 in the SEC in batting average (.326), second to Georgia (.329).
The Gators also hold the league's No. 2 spot in slugging, on-base percentage, runs scored, and boast the top mark for runs batted in − all pointing to their offensive consistency. However, "consistent" might not be the word most would use to describe Florida's offense over the weekend.
In game one against the Rebels, the Gators scattered six hits, though it took some time for Florida's offense to get rolling as it only had one hit heading into the fifth inning.
Fortunately for the Gators, they were able to generate offense when they needed it most as they produced three hits in the bottom of the seventh inning, including Reagan Walsh's walk-off home run, to give Florida a 6-5 series-opening win.
Come Saturday, Florida's lineup had no issues knocking the ball around with 12 hits. However, it's not hits that win games − it's runs. And those were hard to come by as Florida stranded 12 baserunners, including leaving the bases loaded three times. The Gators' lack of situational hitting nipped them in game two, allowing the Rebels to grab a series-tying 7-2 win.
Meanwhile, Sunday was the best of both worlds as the Gators hit and scored runs with ease. Florida had 13 hits in Sunday's 12-2 win, clinching their fourth SEC series of the season.
"When you take a good-hitting team and you get a chance to see them a second day, teams are going to make adjustments," Tim Walton said after Sunday's win. "Just the visualization of being able to see the pitches and seeing their two pitchers on Friday and yesterday, I thought we did a really good job of making adjustments. We hit the ball hard and well all weekend."
Echols, Egan and Falby shine against Rebs
Florida fifth-year senior Charla Echols has been productive all season with her .377 batting average, her team-leading 58 RBIs and her 10 home runs.
However, due to teammate Skylar Wallace's video game-like success, Echols hasn't been the talk of the town. But after Echols' effort against Ole Miss, it might be time to talk about her a bit more.
"Skylar obviously wasn't as good. She was more normal this weekend," Walton joked of Wallace, who went 3-for-10. "Charla really picked us up."
Echols went 7-for-10, notching five RBIs and a home run, while also continuing her steady season from third base, fielding perfectly over the weekend.
In addition to Echols, graduate transfer Pal Egan strung together nice outings against the Rebels, breaking up a bit of a late-season slump. Egan, who has started in right field for the much of the season, pushed her batting average over .300 after going 5-for-9 against Ole Miss, with a pair of RBIs.
Sophomore outfielder Kendra Falby also had a strong weekend in the batter's box, going 5-for-9 with three RBIs.
Falby opened the season as the Gators' leadoff hitter and has since been moved around in the lineup, appearing at the Nos. 2, 6 and 9 holes.
"I like when she gets on every time for Skylar. That makes it just perfect," Walton said. "But I think sandwiching Skylar between Charla (and Falby), that's really been good as far as the number of hits."
Against Ole Miss, Falby spent Friday at the No. 2 spot before landing at No. 9 for the remainder of the series.
Pitchers rebound after rocky outing at Rocky Top
Heading into the weekend's series, the Gators' bullpen was coming off its series against Tennessee, which saw Florida's arms give up a combined 21 free passes. The Gators still allowed 13 free bases this past weekend, but nonetheless seemed to have rebounded against the Rebels.
In games one and two, Walton went to his typical rotation of Elizabeth Hightower and Rylee Trlicek, who were recognized during the weekend's senior celebrations.
Hightower saw the majority of the action with 7.2 innings of work that saw her give up five runs on six hits and tally eight strikeouts. She posted a one-hit performance in Saturday's loss. Meanwhile, Trlicek combined for 6.1 innings over the weekend, giving up six runs on 10 hits and recording three strikeouts.
Lexie Delbrey got the nod for Sunday's rubber match and tossed the full five innings, giving up one hit and coming away with four strikeouts.
Delbrey, who spent the offseason recovering from an injury sustained late last season, has taken her lumps during her sophomore campaign as she's struggled with giving up free passes.
And in her first inning of work Sunday, it appeared as though Delbrey's struggles might continue. Ole Miss scratched across a pair of runs thanks to a handful of free bases and pitching miscues, which sparked Walton making a visit to the circle.
"She did a good job responding," Walton said. "To get out of a situation like that, whatever the count was with runners on first and second and no outs in the first inning, it's a big inning. And she limited the damage ... I thought she did good job. She limited the damage and took a little bit of deeper breaths."
With her rise ball and changeup, Delbrey was able to keep the Rebels at bay for the remainder of the game. But perhaps more than anything, it was Delbrey's "resets" that helped her in Sunday's win.
"I started doing it a lot more this season because I've had to work really hard to get to where I am right now," Delbrey said. "I had to reset a lot more because it's really frustrating coming back from an injury and trying to fight back from that. I just have to reset and remember I'm going to do the best I can do and give a 110%."