Special report on the Florida Gators softball team:
WHAT HAPPENED: Fifth-year senior Natalie Lugo came out of the bullpen to rescue her team from an early (and potential killer) jam and sophomore first baseman Avery Goelz’s bat accounted for five runs as the 14th-seeded Gators settled in after a rough start and made easy work of the unseeded Beavers in Thursday’s opening round of the Women’s College World Series at Oklahoma City. Lugo worked six innings in relief and gave up just one hit and struck out six and did not walk a batter in one of her most impressive performances of the season. Goelz went 2-for-3 with three RBI and also had a sharply hit ball in the second inning that resulted in an OSU error that brought in the Gators first two runs of the game. Senior third baseman Charla Echols had a homer, triple and knocked in three runs and senior Cheyenne Lindsey went 3-for-3 with three runs scored to help Florida continue its NCAA Tournament offensive assault with 13 hits. The game took a turn in UF’s favor before it even started when OSU announced All-American and two-way standout Mariah Mazon would not play. No reason was given, but it took a .366 hitter (with 12 homers and 40 RBI) and the Beavers’ best pitcher (17-11, 1.60 ERA) out of the mix. Oregon State, though, gave UF freshman starter Lexie Delbrey fits in the first two innings, taking a 1-0 lead in the first, then loading the bases with no outs in the second. Out came Gators coach Tim Walton and out went Delbrey in favor of Lugo, who set the next three batters down in order and left three runners stranded, completely altering the game’s tenor. UF took advantage the next inning when, with two outs and runners at second and third, Goelz rocketed a hard grounder down the first baseline that was booted by first baseman Frankie Hammoude, putting the Gators in front 2-1. Next time up, Goelz again had runners in scoring position, and sent a single up the middle for a 4-1 lead in the fourth inning. That was more than enough for Lugo, who set down 18 of the 19 batters she faced. The Beavers didn’t do themselves any favors with four errors, either.
PLAY OF THE GAME: We’ll cheat and call it the three plays of the game, which were the three hitters Lugo got that wiped out what was looking like a big (if not monstrous) second inning for the Beavers.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: By rights, Lugo should be the choice here, but let’s give Goelz, who came in hitting .257, some credit. She totaled 12 RBI during the regular season, but now has six in the last two games. She had two hits and knocked in three runs in the 12-0 Super Regional clincher Sunday at Virginia Tech and picked up two more knocks and three RBI Thursday. The two runs that scored on her sharply hit ball in the second didn’t go down as RBI, but Goelz hit that ball really hard (and, frankly, the official scorer may have erred in assigning OSU an error on the play).
STAGGERING STATISTIC: Kind of hard to believe, but the Gators snapped a four-game losing streak at the WCWS. They were swept in two games (by Oklahoma State and Alabama) in 2019, and in 2018 won their opener against Georgia, but then lost to UCLA and were eliminated by Oklahoma.
UP NEXT: The Gators (49-17) will play the winner of Thursday’s nightcap game between No. 7-seed Oklahoma State (49-12) and unseeded Arizona (38-20) in a second-round winner’s bracket showdown Saturday at 7 p.m. If the opponent is OSU, the matchup will be a reunion between UF coach Tim Walton and his longtime buddy/former assistant Kenny Gajewski, who became head coach of the Cowgirls in 2016 after helping guide the Gators to back-to-back national championships. Gajewski has led OSU to each of the last three WCWS, with the Cowgirls being one of two teams to defeat No. 1 Oklahoma this season. If the opponent is Arizona, the Gators will face the team believed to be the last to receive an at-large berth into the NCAA field after the Wildcats went 8-16 in Pac-12 play and finished last in the league in their first season since the retirement of icon coach Mike Candrea after 36 seasons.
* The Gators cranked out 13 hits against the Beavers in tonight’s game, which makes it the sixth game out of seven played in the NCAA Tournament that the team has produced 10 or more hits.
* May 20 – Canisius – 10 Hits
* May 21 – Georgia Tech – 10 Hits
* May 22 – Wisconsin – 15 Hits
* May 28 – Virginia Tech – 10 Hits
* May 29 – Virginia Tech – 13 Hits
* June 2 – Oregon State – 13 Hits
* Redshirt-junior Skylar Wallace stole her 52nd base of the season, which is now two shy of cracking into the Southeastern Conference single-season top 10.
* Freshman Kendra Falby collected her 84th hit of the season in the bottom of the first inning against Oregon State. The 84 hits are the second most by a Florida freshman behind Kelsey Stewart who had 90 hits in 2013.
* Cheyenne Lindsey produced her 20th multi-hit game of the season after going 3-for-3 at the plate and three runs scored.
* The three hits tied the senior’s single-game record.
* Katie Kistler notched her 13th multi-hit game of the season after going 2-for-3 at the plate in this afternoon’s game against Oregon State.
* Charla Echols hit a solo home run in the fifth marking the first Gator longball since 2019 by Sophia Reynoso vs. Alabama.
* She knocked her fourth triple of the season in the sixth.
* Avery Goelz tied her career-high in RBI (3) along with her fourth multi-RBI game and 11th multi-hit game this season.
* She also recorded all three notables in the final game of the Blacksburg Super Regional.
* Natalie Lugo struck out six batters for the third most this season by the right-hander.