Florida softball: Gators humbled in 8-0 loss to Stanford, face elimination Saturday night
On the heels of a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Loyola Marymount on Friday night, the Florida Gators softball team wouldn't leave Stanford's Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium in the same spirits Saturday evening after suffering a humbling 8-0 run-rule loss at the hands of the hosting Stanford Cardinal.
The Gators' loss to the ninth-ranked Cardinal sends Florida to the loser's bracket of the Stanford Regional, where they'll see the winner of Loyola Marymount-Long Beach State on Saturday night at 10 p.m.
A late-night win on Saturday would send Florida to the regional championship for a rematch with Stanford, while a loss would end the Gators' 2023 campaign.
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Here's how it shook out in Florida's first game Saturday evening.
Florida, Stanford's bullpens miles apart
Given the seasonlong struggles of Florida's pitching staff and the wildly successful year Stanford's arms have had in the circle, everyone knew Saturday afternoon's pitchers' duel wouldn't be a highly contested one.
While Florida starter Elizabeth Hightower entered the matchup with a 3.16 ERA and had given up 21 home runs, Stanford's freshman ace NiJaree Canady came into Saturday with a nation's best 0.49 ERA and had only allowed one ball to leave the yard in her rookie campaign.
The Gators knew they'd be hard-pressed to score many runs against Canady, which put a lot of pressure on Florida's staff of arms to keep Stanford off the scoreboard.
And unfortunately for Florida, the Gators' staff of Hightower, sophomore Lexie Delbrey and senior Rylee Trlicek wasn't effective in keeping the Cardinal offense at bay as Stanford took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning before exploding for a five-run third inning.
Stanford's big third inning was ignited by a two-run home run off the bat of Aly Kaneshiro and was followed up by a run-scoring wild pitch and a two-RBI double from Kaitlyn Lim and Emily Schultz.
The Gators' pitching staff coughed up another run to the Cardinal in the bottom of the fourth inning as Delbrey worked her way into a jam and tossed a five-pitch bases-loaded walk to Lim, bringing Stanford's lead to 7-0.
Keeping in mind that the Gators would likely have to play in an elimination game Saturday night and would need a fresh arm, Trlicek wasn't called out of the bullpen until the bottom of the fifth inning and efficiently kept Stanford from adding to their lead until the bottom of the sixth when Trlicek committed a fielding error, which allowed the eighth Cardinal run to come home.
Canady as advertised, shushes Florida's lineup
Despite Canady's talent, many believed Florida's high-powered offense could test the freshman. However, Stanford's rookie ace lived up to the hype and kept the Gators off the board.
Florida tallied just a pair of hits against Canady and the Cardinal field and the first didn't come until the top of the third as Florida redshirt junior and the SEC's Player of the Year Skylar Wallace knocked a two-out single, but would be left stranded as sophomore Kendra Falby followed by striking out.
The Gators' second hit of the afternoon wouldn't come until the top of the sixth inning as Falby delivered a one-out single, which advanced Kinsey Goelz to second after she reached on a walk and plated a pair of runners for Sam Roe. Roe went on to reach via fielder's choice as Falby was out at second for out No. 2 of the inning.
A fly-out from sophomore Reagan Walsh would end the inning and set up Stanford's opportunity to polish off the run-rule win.
Canady went the distance in Saturday's win, pitching 6.0 innings and hurling nine strikeouts to secure her 15th win of the season.
Florida's Charla Echols' status in limbo
The Gators' fifth-year senior third baseman and three-hole hitter had a short day Saturday as she wore a pitch in the top of the first as a Canady pitch came up and inside, tagging Echols on her elbow.
While Canady's rare miss gave Florida a free pass, it came at a cost as Echols was soon replaced by Roe both at third base and in the lineup. Stanford's first run of the game came courtesy of an error by Roe in the hot corner.
ESPN's Mark Neely asked coach Tim Walton about Echols' availability midway through the game, but Walton sternly replied that Echols was in the dugout and didn't give up much information regarding her assumed injury or her status moving forward.
With Florida needing to win two games to keep its season alive, the loss of Echols could be detrimental considering her .365 batting average and team-leading 63 RBIs. Echols also has been a defensive stalwart for the Gators at third base, boasting a .971 fielding percentage with just five errors.