By: Ryan Randall
The Florida Gators (48-4, 17-4 SEC) softball team has a fairly straightforward goal this weekend: sweep the Missouri Tigers (37-12, 13-9 SEC) to win the SEC regular season title.
However, Friday’s 7-6 victory over the Tigers turned out to be a rollercoaster of high and lows for fans and players alike.
The Gators kicked off the game with a 2-0 lead as Kelsey Stewart scored on a Kirsti Merritt RBI and Nicole DeWitt scored after Merritt was thrown out at second. Missouri would respond with a solo home run from Emily Crane, followed by a two-run homer from Amanda Sanchez to put the Tigers up 3-2. Missouri would continue to send balls out of the park as Morgan Walters hit a solo shot to give the team a 4-2 lead in the second.
After a scoreless third inning, the offense picked up for the Gators in the top of the fourth. Aubree Munro hit a double to right field, allowing Taylor Schwarz to score. Later in the inning Stewart and Munro would score runs off a DeWitt single to center field to give the Gators a 5-4 lead. The defense would also step up in the bottom of the fourth, holding the Tigers scoreless again. Pitcher Delanie Gourley, who subbed in for a struggling Lauren Haeger, gained pitch control as the game went on, allowing four hits and two runs.
In the fifth inning Florida would score again, as Munro hit a single up the middle that advanced Taylore Fuller home. Missouri would return with another home run from Sanchez that keep the Tigers within one. In the sixth, the Gators would struggle to get the bats going while Missouri would apply pressure in the bottom of the inning. With one out to go, Gourley’s low pitch bounced off the glove of Munro, allowing Taylor Gadbois to score. While Florida would get out of the inning shortly thereafter, Florida was tied up with Missouri, 6-6.
As the game wound down to the seventh and final inning, Florida’s resiliency and a little bit of good fortune from Missouri would help close the game out for the Gators. After Schwarz advanced to first by being hit by a pitch, the first baseman advanced to second after a sacrifice bunt from Munro. On the following play, Missouri shortstop Corrin Genovese was cited for an error allowing for Florida runners on first and third base. Stewart’s sacrifice fly on the next at-bat allowed Schwarz to score the deciding run. Florida would continue to the momentum on defense as Gourley struck out the first two batters and forced a grounder to end the game.
The Gators are currently on a 12-game conference winning streak and a 16-game overall streak. Florida will play Missouri again Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm in Columbia.