Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

The Gators are off to a near-perfect start to their 2022 season as they prepare to kick off SEC play this weekend in Gainesville. Florida’s 21-1 record marks its strongest start to a season in four years.

Despite returning four pitchers and the majority of their starting lineup from last season, the Gators added several new pieces — transfers and freshmen — to upgrade this year’s roster.

Pitching Additions

In the circle, right-handers Lexie Delbrey and Marissa Mesiemore have impressed in 24 appearances combined. Delbrey has started nine games and is 7-1 with a save. The freshman Bainbridge, Georgia, native has struck out a team-high 58 batters — sixth in the SEC — across 48 innings. Delbrey has dealt four of Florida’s six complete games thus far.

While senior right-hander Elizabeth Hightower was sidelined with a shoulder injury, Delbrey pitched 23.2 frames in seven appearances. “[Delbrey’s] been the ace of this staff here the last 12 days,” Florida head coach Tim Walton said.

Mesiemore — a graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast — has been used primarily as a relief pitcher. The Bushnell, Florida, native is 2-0 and boasts a sub-1.00 WHIP.

At the Plate

Offensively, Florida’s batting order appears different from last season due to four new faces in the starting lineup.

Freshman outfielder Kendra Falby has started all 22 games so far and leads off for the Gators now that fifth-year second baseman Hannah Adams bats second. Falby is one of only seven players in the nation currently hitting north of .500. The Odessa, Florida, native leads the team with 36 hits — second most in the country — and 49 total bases.

“I just kind of came in with the mindset like you’re a freshman,” Falby said. “So just come in and earn your spot and work hard, and honestly it’s paid off.”

Falby has shown off her base-running skills as she and redshirt junior Skylar Wallace have each stolen 20 bases, which trails just three players nationally. Among that elite company, Wallace is the only one who has yet to be caught stealing.

“Who doesn’t like seeing us speed around the bases,” Wallace said after last Sunday’s doubleheader. “On hits that most people might think is a single, we’re turning them into doubles, triples, we’re scoring.”

Wallace — an everyday starter who bats in the three-hole — is hitting .482 and boasts the second-best on-base percentage in the country (.639). The Alabama transfer has dug out three doubles, four triples, two homers and an inside-the-park home run.

Wallace’s discipline at the plate has allowed the Woodstock, Georgia, native to draw 18 walks — trailing only two others nationwide — in addition to eight hit-by-pitches.

Freshman infielder Regan Walsh has started all 22 contests and shares the team lead for doubles (5) and home runs (3). In the field, however, Walsh has committed eight of Florida’s 10 errors predominantly playing shortstop. Despite turning a pair of double plays, the Redondo Beach, California, native holds a team-low .822 fielding percentage.

“Making an error usually isn’t a point of frustration for me as a coach,” Walton said following last Sunday’s doubleheader. “It’s just when that compounds into taking that to your at-bat or making another mistake out of it.”

Freshman catcher Sam Roe — who alternates starts behind the plate with sophomore Emilie Wilkie — is off to a hot start. In just 29 at-bats, Roe went yard twice and drove in six runs. Roe maintains a perfect fielding percentage on 73 chances, although the Destin, Florida, native has yielded two stolen bases and a passed ball.

“[Wilkie] kind of took me under her wing and she’s like mentoring me through it me,” Roe said following Sunday’s doubleheader. “Without [Wilkie], I don’t where I would be.”

SEC Opening Weekend

The Gators will look to remain in the win column Saturday when they open conference play at home against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs enter the series with a 15-8 record but are 0-1 on the road. Saturday’s game is scheduled for noon and will air on the SEC Network.

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