A trio of Florida right-handers hurled seven scoreless frames combined Friday night in Tampa as the Gators earned their 21st Opening Day shutout win in program history.
Florida defeated Illinois State 3-0 and jumped out to an early lead via a two-out rally in the top of the second. With a runner on first, sophomore right fielder Avery Goelz tripled to deep center to score Florida’s first run of the season.
One batter later, freshman left fielder Kendra Falby — Florida’s nine-hole hitter — approached the plate for the first at-bat of her collegiate career. On a 1-2 count, the Odessa, Florida, native roped a double down the left-field line that allowed Goelz to score.
“The nerves were high,” Falby said after the win. “But then once that first pitch was pitched and I got the first ball into left field, . . . I looked at Cheyenne [Lindsey] and I was like okay I never said that, I’m good, I’m ready to go.”
The Gators maintained their 2-0 advantage until the sixth inning when Falby delivered another two-out RBI. Falby hit an infield single that drove home junior pinch runner Mia Buffano.
Fifth-year Natalie Lugo recorded the first 10 outs before senior Elizabeth Hightower entered the circle in relief. Hightower threw the next 2.2 innings — striking out six of the nine batters she faced — en route to earning the win. After the game, Hightower called her performance felt pretty good.
“The week leading up to this game I really worked hard on trying to spin my riseball a little bit better,” Hightower said. “Obviously, had some good off-speed pitches, so all around I thought it was pretty good.”
In the bottom of the seventh, freshman Lexie Delbrey delivered a 12-pitch, one-two-three inning to clinch her first career save.
No. 6 Florida: 3 / 6 / 0
Illinois State: 0 / 3 / 1
Win: Hightower (1-0)
Loss: Ross (0-1)
Save: Delbrey (1)
Lugo: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
Hightower: 2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 6 K
Delbrey: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
- Adams: 1-1, 2 BB, HBP, 2 SB
- Wallace: 1-4, 2 SB
- Echols: 0-4
- Walsh: 0-4
- Thomas: 0-2, 2 K
- Lindsey: 0-4
- Wilkie: 1-1, 1 R, 2 BB
- Goelz: 1-3, R, RBI
- Falby: 2-3, 2 RBI, SB, K
The Gators will face Kansas City at 10:30 a.m. Saturday followed by No. 16 Michigan this afternoon at 1.