In a sight familiar across Florida softball history, a team celebrated a series victory at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, a jubilant dogpile with further postseason glory awaiting.
This time, however, the victors didn’t don orange and blue. The Gators were left to sit and watch as their rival Georgia waltzed away with a Super Regional victory and a Women’s College World Series birth on their home dirt.
UF needed a victory Saturday to extend their postseason another day and keep their national championship hopes alive. Instead, Georgia shut them out for the second straight day and silenced Florida to the tune of a 6-0 victory to end the Gators’ season.
Georgia ace Mary Wilson Avant, who authored a complete-game shutout in Friday’s series opener, took the mound again for the Bulldogs and didn’t lose a step. An early double from Florida first baseman Kendyl Lindaman seemed to signal better luck for Florida’s bats, but it was not to be.
Avant never allowed multiple hits in any inning and and no Florida runner advanced past second base. She ended her afternoon with four strikeouts and hits apiece, with one walk and two hit batters. Avant pitched all 14 innings this weekend for Georgia and never allowed a run.
Elizabeth Hightower began on the mound for Florida and rode into Saturday with more momentum than ever after her first career no-hitter against South Florida Sunday. She earned one run or less her previous for outings and hadn’t earned more than two runs since April 3.
That April 3 outing, however, was against this same Georgia team, and the Bulldogs had long memories. Hightower struck the first batter she faced, and a double from second baseman Sydney Kuma and a single from first basmen Lacey Fincher later, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 1-0 lead before Hightower recorded an out.
Her afternoon didn’t improve from there. The Florida ace struck out the next two batters she faced to escape the opening inning without further damage, but Georgia’s Jaiden Fields led off the second inning with her second home run in two days to bump the lead to two runs. Fields finished the two-game series with four hits and two RBIs.
Hightower surrendered a second solo blast in the third inning to center fielder Jayda Kearney to end her afternoon. She earned three runs on four hits in 2.2 innings, although she struck out six of the 14 batters she faced.
Reliever Katie Chronister retired the first four batters she faced to preserve the 3-0 deficit, but Florida’s hopes came undone in a disastrous fifth inning. A two-run home run from Kuma, Georgia’s third of the day, made it a five-run game. Chronister surrendered a walk and two singles in her next four batters to score the sixth and final run, and Florida’s fate was sealed.
The Gators came to the top of the seventh inning with a ticking clock, needing six runs and down to their final three outs. Pinch hitter Kinsey Goelz was hit by one of Avant’s pitches to give Florida a baserunner, but two consecutive groundouts left Chronister, Lindaman and Jamie Hoover to watch their conference rival celebrate on their own field in their final game.
Florida ends with a final record of 45-11 and a share of the regular-season conference title, but no further postseason glory as it failed to advance to the WCWS for the first time since 2016. Head coach Tim Walton and his squad look forward to 2022 and an attempt to begin a new streak.