Down to its last strike and staring at a series loss to open SEC play, the narrative brewing around Florida softball is that this might not be the team we thought it would be earlier in the season.
And while there are some legitimate questions to be asked for the 2023 Florida Gators, Sunday’s come-from-behind victory over Missouri should erase any doubts about the grit and fight that the squad has.
Florida Softball: It ain’t over until it’s over
Despite the lofty ranking and the lofty win-loss record, Florida feels like a squad that is paralleling last year’s team. In 2022, the Gators started 16-0, before going 25-15 the rest of the regular season. That team ultimately qualified for the NCAA Tournament as the 14th seed.
This year’s squad started 10-0 before the California trip. Heading into their opening series against Missouri, Florida softball was sitting at 20-4. But as the competition ramps up, the Gators have struggled to rise with it.
In the opening game of the series, Florida fell behind 2-0 but Skylar Wallace hit a two-run homer to tie it up in the 3rd inning. But in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings, the Gators only had a total of one baserunner. Along the way, Missouri had seven batters reach base in the time span and five of them came home.
It was a flat performance and Florida fell 7-3.
Playing a doubleheader, the Gators got back on track for game two. Kendra Falby had two hits, Reagan Walsh had a two-run single, and Wallace had a hit with two walks. Elizabeth Hightower and Rylee Trlicek teamed up to keep Missouri to three runs and the Gators took game two 4-3.
With the series on the line Sunday, Missouri gave Hightower fits in the first inning. Aided by a somewhat questionable strike zone, Missouri forced Hightower to throw 56 pitches in the 1st inning. The Tigers had the bases loaded with one out and looked poised to break the game open early with one swing, but Hightower was able to avoid the big mistake and limited the damage to one run.
Even with the limited damage, Florida was still down 2-0 in the 4th inning but clawed back to tie it after an Avery Goelz single.
The Gators were down once again heading into the 7th inning and while Katie Kistler was standing on 3rd base representing the tying run, Wallace was at the plate down to her final strike and the Gators were down to their final out.
This is where Wallace’s single up the middle could serve as a turning point for this team. Missouri is a respectable enough team, but they are far from an elite squad. If Florida has plans to make it back to Oklahoma City, a series loss to Missouri would not be a good look. As it stands, Tim Walton’s group is still going to have to fight and claw to finish in the top 16 to host a Regional round, let alone make it back to the Super Regionals.
But as Wallace then stole second, advanced to third on an errant throw, and then scored the winning run off a wild pitch, it gave hope that Florida is up for the fight.