TAMPA - The No. 6-ranked Florida softball team picked up a 3-0 victory Friday evening over Illinois State on Opening Day at the USF - Rawlings Invitational.
The Gators (1-0) were led in the circle by Natalie Lugo, Elizabeth Hightower (1-0) and Lexie Delbrey (1 SV). The trio combined for 11 strikeouts and the program's 21st career opening day shutout.
Hightower picked up the victory after she entered in relief in the third inning with Redbirds on the corners with one out. The Monticello, Fla. native hit the first batter she faced to load the bases, but went on to record back-to-back swinging strikeouts.
From there, the NFCA Third Team All-American, went on to retire six-straight additional batters, before being relieved by freshman Lexie Delbrey. Delbrey, a Bainbridge, Ga. native, picked up her first career save as she retired the side in order with a pair of strikeouts to end the game.
Lugo, a native of West Covina, Calif., threw 3.1 innings as the starter of today's game and struck out three, while allowing only three hits and a pair of walks.
Offensively, Florida broke open the scoring in the top of the 2nd inning of play. Sophomore catcher Emily Wilkie (Cumming, Ga.) produced a two-out single, which was then followed up by fellow sophomore outfielder Avery Goelz's RBI triple to center field.
Freshman outfielder Kendra Falby drove in Goelz during the ensuing at-bad with an RBI double down the left field line to give UF a 2-0 lead.
Falby pushed the lead out to 3-0 on an RBI single back to the circle that scored pinch-runner Mia Buffano from third base. Falby, the speedster from Odessa, Fla., finished the night 2-for-3 from the plate with a pair of RBI and a stolen base in her collegiate debut.
The Gators return to action Saturday, Feb. 12, with a pair of games against Kansas City at 10:30 a.m. and No. 16 Michigan at 1 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN 98.1FM/850AM WRUF and on The Varsity Network app.