Elimination Saturday awaits the 2-seed Florida Gators softball team after a dramatic loss to the 3-seed UCLA Bruins in the late game of the Women’s College World Series Friday night.
Power hitting, power pitching and a little bit of controversy combined for a crazy game that ended with the Bruins on top 6-5.
Untouchable is a strong word, but it might be the best word to describe Kelly Barnhill’s performance in the first innings of the game. One after another, UCLA’s first eight batters all fell victim to the strikeout and Barnhill remained perfect through three innings of play.
Offensively, the Gators picked up right where they left off after run ruling Georgia in Thursday’s game.
Amanda Lorenz continued her on-base streak, reaching on a tough hop that ate up the shortstop in the first inning. Kayli Kvistad then ripped a one-out single down the right field line to put runners on the corners.
Lorenz ultimately crossed the plate on a wild pitch to put Florida on the board 1-0.
With two outs in the second inning, Reynoso got the home run hitting back going for the Gators. She hit just her second homer of the season to left field to make it 2-0.
With Barnhill smoothly sailing in the circle, the Gators seemed to be hitting cruise control by the third inning. Lorenz worked a full count walk to start the inning and Nicole DeWitt moved her over with a sacrifice bunt, but it wouldn’t have mattered either way because Kvistad came through with a no-doubter into the right field bleachers to give Florida a 4-0 lead.
The fourth inning is when things started to go south for the Gators.
After only one batter was able to make contact the first time through the lineup, the Bruins decided to get a different look and Kylee Perez laid down a bunt to start the fourth inning. Barnhill fielded it and would have been better off under handing it to Kvistad at first base, but opted to throw it and it sailed into the baseline.
That gave UCLA its first base runner of the game, and Barnhill’s mindset seemingly faltered from there. A fielder’s choice gave Florida an out, but Barnhill hit a batter and walked two more for three straight free passes, and the first run crossed for the Bruins.
Madeline Jelenicki then popped up in foul territory and shortstop Sophia Reynoso made the decision to make the catch running backwards and would need a perfect throw home to get the runner tagging up.
She did just that. The perfect throw. But with a controversial call at the plate and no option for replay to reverse it, another run scored making it 4-2.
That brought up Jordan Pack, and she made the Gators pay with a three-run bomb. Just like that, Florida gave up its lead with five UCLA runs scored on just one hit.
The Gators couldn’t answer in the fourth inning, but nearly did in the fifth. Kvistad continued her outstanding night at the plate with a two-out single that made her 3-for-3. Janell Wheaton came just inched from clearing the fence and retaking the lead in one swing, but the left fielder made the catch with her back to the wall and Florida trailed 5-4 going to the sixth inning.
Bubba Nickles has been hot all postseason for the Bruins, and she continued that with a solo shot off Barnhill in the sixth to make it 6-4.
Jordan Roberts got a chance to pinch hit in the bottom of the inning. Deservingly so after absolutely crushing a home run in a pinch hit appearance on Thursday.
History repeated itself when she took an inside pitch over the fence in left field to bring the Gators within a run.
After the boost from Roberts, Florida ended up getting runners on the corners with two outs in the inning and Lorenz coming to the plate. Tension had been high with the home plate umpire all night, and they got even higher when a couple balls clearly off the plate were called against Lorenz in the biggest situation of the night.
She ended up grounding it back to the pitcher to close out the inning and send the game to the seventh.
Barnhill finally seemed to be finding her groove again as she struck out the first two batters. After that, head coach Tim Walton made his way out of the dugout to have some words with the umpire and was immediately thrown out of the game.
It was very odd timing with no calls going against his team at that moment, but it was likely due to frustration building throughout the night and possibly wanting to fire up his team before one last chance at the plate.
The Gators weren’t able to get anything going in the bottom of the inning despite the heart of the lineup coming up to bat. The consistent, yet poor calls behind the plate continued and all three of Florida’s hitters did not look comfortable, and all three ended in strikeouts.
Barnhill suffered her second loss of the season while giving up just three hits and striking out 13 in the game. On the other side, National Player of the Year Rachel Garcia struck out 15 Florida batters and was able to walk away with the win despite allowing three Florida long balls.
The Gators will now face elimination on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. and will face the winner of Florida State and Georgia.