Coming into the series opener against No. 3 Alabama, the No. 8 Florida softball team won eight straight games after losing six in a row to Top 25 teams Georgia and Kentucky.
The losing streak against the nation’s best continued Friday as the Gators (38-8, 13-7 SEC) were held to only three hits by Alabama ace Kelsi Dunne and lost 5-0.
Dunne, who has the SEC’s second-best ERA behind Florida starter Stephanie Brombacher, struck out six Gators, bringing her SEC-leading total to 233.
Five of those strikeouts came against the bottom of a lineup that struggled as Cheyenne Coyle, Kelsey Horton and Kasey Fagan all struck out looking during the Gators’ best opportunity to score with the bases loaded in the second inning.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” senior Kelsey Bruder said. “I think the most frustrating part of that is the strikeouts. If you strike out looking, there’s nothing that come out good of that – ever. No matter what happens.”
Head coach Tim Walton said despite the loss, he thought his team played well, but just couldn’t capitalize after getting the leadoff runner on base in four of the seven innings.
“We didn’t capitalize on anything, so that kills you,” he said.
Bruder said some of the players did not play the Crimson Tide (42-5, 16-4 SEC) as relaxed as they have played other opponents during the win streak and it is something the Gators will address for Saturday’s contest.
“I don’t think there’s anything mechanical. I don’t think there’s anything physical at all. I think it’s just mental,” she said. “I think that’s all it is. And a great pitcher. She’s one of the best pitchers in the nation.”
As for Florida’s ace, Brombacher lasted only three innings in her second start since returning from a right bicep injury, and was credited with her first loss of the season.
The senior from Pembroke Pines started off the game strong retiring the first three batters, but ran into some trouble in the second inning as Alabama had two batters on with only one out.
Brombacher forced Alabama second baseman Kaila Hunt to hit a warning track pop out to center, and catcher Kendall Dawson to ground out to second to end the inning.
After consecutively retiring three more Alabama batters in the third, Brombacher began to get tired in the fourth and was pulled after giving up a four-pitch walk to Whitney Larsen and hitting Amanda Locke.
Walton said his decision to remove Brombacher from the game was based on her fatigue after throwing 64 pitches.
With two on and nobody out, freshman Hannah Rogers came on in relief and struck out her first batter in Jackie Traina, but gave up a sacrifice fly to Cassie Reilly-Boccia to give the Tide the first run of the game.
The next batter up was Hunt, who hit a shot that deflected off of Fagan’s glove and past Coyle into left field to bring in another run, increasing the Tide’s lead to two. Both runs were credited to Brombacher.
The Tide put the game out of reach in the next inning when Rogers gave up a 3-run home run to Locke with two outs. After giving up a leadoff double to Courtney Conley, the freshman struck out the next two batters, but could not seal the deal as she walked Larsen before giving up the homer.
Saturday’s game will start at 4 p.m. and will be followed by the Swinging for the Cure Home Run Derby, as the Gators are celebrating their cancer awareness weekend.
Walton said Brombacher will start depending on how she warms up as she has not pitched in back-to-back games since returning from injury.
“She didn’t give up a whole lot of hits to make you say don’t throw her tomorrow,” Walton said. “So we’ll see how she looks and feels tomorrow.”
Gator Country reporter Safid Deen can be reached at Safid@GatorCountry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SafidDeenGC.