GAINESVILLE, Fla. - No.5-seed Florida defeated No.12-seed Texas A&M, 4-1, in its first game of the 2022 Southeastern Conference Softball Tournament at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium Wednesday evening.
Fifth-year graduate senior Hannah Adams received a standing ovation from the home crowd after having missed the last 14 games of the 2022 regular season and helped propel the Orange & Blue (42-15) to their 35th all-time tournament win.
Adams and the rest of the Gators captured the electricity emitted from the 1,610 fans in attendance and channeled it into a three-run lead in the first inning. Freshman Kendra Falby led off the inning with an infield single and Adams' put down a bunt single in her first at-bat back from injury to put two on with no outs.
The duo then put pressure on the Aggies (29-26) defense as Adams raced to second for her 13th stolen base of the season and in the process Falby took off and stole home for her 34th stolen base of the season.
Senior Charla Echols extended the lead out to 2-0 and drove in Adams later in the frame on via an RBI single to left and was drive home by freshman Reagan Walsh' RBI single to right field after she advanced to scoring position on a wild pitch from Aggies starter Grace Uribe (5-4).
Falby and Adams rallied the Gators again in the bottom of the second and extended the lead out to 4-0 when the pair notched back-to-back one out base hits. Falby ripped her sixth double of the season to set the table for Adams' RBI single through the right side of the Aggies infield.
In the circle, senior Elizabeth Hightower (15-7) held the Texas A&M offense to just three hits and one run through 5 1/3 innings. The Aggies lone run game in the top of the sixth inning of action when Trinity Cannon plated Rylen Wiggins on a single to left.
However, the Gators defense had the pitching staffs back the entire game as Echols ended the third frame with a double play and sophomore Katie Kistler followed up with a double play of her own from center field in the fourth.
Rylee Trlicek and Natalie Lugo went on to close out the game and secure the victory. Trlicek entered in relief for Hightower and pitched 1 1/3 innings and Lugo picked up the final out to secure her fourth save of the year.
The Gators now set their gaze on No.4-seed Kentucky as the two will meet for the first time during the 2022 season Thursday, May 12, at 5 p.m. on SEC Network.
Florida Head Coach, Tim Walton
On using speed tonight... "I mean, it's what we are, you know. I think at some point in time we had an opportunity in the game to maybe have the batters control a little bit of the offense. I think that the script was how we played today, we didn't play to our opponent. We didn't play against our opponent. We did what we do. Kendra (Falby) is the reason. She made all the cool highlight plays, because she's good, you know, it's not what we just let her be good. She did that tonight and ultimately that's the difference in the ballgame."
#1 Hannah Adams, 5th Year Graduate, Infielder
On coming back and impacting the game tonight... "Yeah, it felt really good. Obviously, missing games is not what I wanted for my last season. But I think just embracing every moment. I worked pretty hard when I was sitting to make sure that I was getting stuff done to where I would be ready when I came back. So just seeing that pay off was good. I'm just trying to take in every moment I can so obviously was my goal to have an impact on the game as soon as I could come back."
On coming back and impacting the game tonight... "Yeah, that was a really cool experience. It made me nervous at first. I was like oh my gosh, this is so cool. But I thought it was really cool to just have all their support after being out for that time. They even did the same thing when I came into the pitch run in our other game, they gave me a standing ovation. I was like this is really cool to see."
#27 Kendra Falby, Freshman, Outfielder
On first SEC Tournament experience... "I'm just really understanding that it's postseason now, so what you did before doesn't matter at all and like it's a new season. Really taking that in and then honestly just like Gator Nation behind me, like I felt like I had my twenty-one teammates behind me and then I had two thousand people behind me. It was like all of us against them. So it was like the pressure was more on them and I'm just kind of embracing that and just running with it."
On having a Hannah Adams back tonight... "Honestly, the way she played today never felt like she left. But yeah, it was good. Just like Hannah has been there the whole time. Yeah she's been out and not been on the field, but like she's still in the dugout. I can still ask her questions. She's been a great teammate through this whole process. I'm just glad that she's back, back now."