The No. 2 University of Florida Gators softball team (30-2, 7-1 SEC) put on an offensive show against the No. 3 University of Georgia Bulldogs (25-4, 6-3 SEC). It wasn’t good enough to beat their Southeastern Conference rivals.
The Gators lost the wild opening game of the weekend series 10-7. What did the Gators in was an anemic offense to start off the game. Through the first four innings, UF could only muster two hits off of Bulldog ace sophomore RHP Alison Owen. Owen racked up five strikeouts, including two looking, in those first four innings.
Although Gator sophomore RHP Ensley Gammel experienced control issues throughout the game with nine walks, she was able to hold the Bulldogs to one run up until the fifth inning. Both teams put on a hitting clinic in the eventful fifth.
Gator head coach Tim Walton thought that the teamed came into the game with the right mindset against the effective Owen.
“I thought we had a really good game plan against her,” Walton said. “She’s got some spin that you can’t tell if it is going to go up or stay in the zone. That was the adjustment that they made after it was not going up. They were able to stay on it a little bit better.”
Coming into the fifth inning, the Bulldogs only had three hits. They were able though to seven base runners compared to the Gators two.
Leading off the inning for Georgia was second baseman Ashley Pauley. She drew a five-pitch walk from Gammel. Georgia’s leading hitter Megan Wiggins moved Pauley to 3rd base with a double. Gammel proceeded to walk Alisa Goler to load the bases with no outs. UGa senior Brianna Hesson hits a ground ball to Gators third baseman Kelsey Fagan. Fagan hesitated her throw home for the force and did not give enough time for catcher Brittany Schutte to complete the double play with a throw to first base.
The Bulldogs were able to extend the top half of the inning with a wild pitch, two walks and two hits. After the dust was settled, Georgia jumped to a 6-0 lead.
Even with the shaky control, Walton felt that Gammel did the best she could for the situation.
“I thought she pitched well,” Walton said. “If you look at 10 of their runs, I wonder if 7 of them were scored with two outs. Anytime you score 7 runs you hope you got enough to win.”
At 6-0, the Gators faced their largest deficit of the year. Senior first baseman Megan Bush stepped to the plate to face Owen. She took a 2-1 pitch over the left-field wall, passed the outstretched glove of the Bulldog left fielder. Freshman shortstop Cheyenne Coyle knocked Owen out of the game with another home run to make the score 6-2.
With one out in the bottom half of that inning, Gator right fielder Kelsey Horton hit a double down the left-field line off new Bulldog pitcher Erin Arevalo. The Gator hitting was infectious as designated player Samantha Holle singled to move pinch runner Ellie Langley to third. Two batters later and the score 6-3, Georgia pulled Arevalo and re-entered Owen to face Kelsey Bruder. Bruder, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, proved why she hits fourth in the volatile Gator softball lineup.
She smacked a 3-2 pitch into right field for a game-tying three-run home run. At the end of five innings, the score remained tied at six runs apiece.
In the bottom of the sixth, Bush would come up huge again. Coming into the game, she has 13 home runs on the year. Facing Owen, Bush took the first pitch she saw and crushed a ball off the scoreboard for the go-ahead run.
Leading 7-6 in the top of the seventh, Gammel and the Gators ultimately couldn’t quell the Georgia Bulldog bats. With the score tied after a Bulldog home run and a runner on second and two outs, the Gators intentionally walked Goler to face Hesson. With a 0-2 count, Hesson stroked a three run home run to put the Bulldogs up for good at 10-7.
Walton appreciated the effort Gammel provided, but knows that certain pitches were not made to retire the Georgia hitters.
“She didn’t throw enough quality pitches late in the game,” Walton said. “I thought she gave us everything she had and then some.”
Even though the team lost, Walton thinks that they were well prepared for the marquee matchup and does not feel any less confident in their abilities.
“The team knew the circumstances going into it and they did a good job,” Walton said. “We knew we were going to have to score a lot of runs. We just came up a little bit short. We had a couple opportunities late but we are right there. If the polls are correct and that is the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country I feel good about where we are at, and I am sure they feel the same.”
The real story behind this loss though, could be the conspicuous absence of freshman pitching sensation Hannah Rodgers (16-1, 0.43 ERA). Walton said that Rodgers was suspended for Friday’s Georgia game as a result of an ejection at the March 19 game at Ole Miss. He confirmed that Gammel would start game two of the series Saturday and possibly even game three on Sunday. Rodgers has filled in nicely for the injured senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher.
The series resumes at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium at the Univ. of Fla. on Saturday at 4:30.
Gator Country reporter Adam Pincus can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/adamDpincus.