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UF Softball: Gators Advance to Regional Final with Victory Over Jaguars

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY CHRIS HARRY

The Gators beat South Alabama 10-0 to advance to the championship round of the NCAA Tournament Gainesville regional

WHAT HAPPENED:┬áThe Gators handed Natalie Lugo an early lead and the senior ran with it Saturday in throwing a two-hitter at the Jaguars and leading fourth-seeded Florida into the championship round of the NCAA Tournament Gainesville regional. UF jumped on USA in the top of the first inning, working the bases loaded before getting an infield single from Jaimie Hoover that scored Hannah Adams from third. Jags shortstop Kennedy Cronan’s shovel to second baseman Belle Wolfenden was fumbled on the play, allowing Emily Wilkie to circle home from second and put the Gators in front 2-0. Florida left the bases loaded, but that would turn out to be enough for Lugo, who went to limit the Jags to just those couple of hits, while striking out a career-high 11 and walking two. Offensively, UF gave her further breathing room with a solo homer from junior third baseman Charla Echols in the third, a bases-loaded walk in the fifth, and three more runs in both the sixth (on RBI singles from Wilkie and Julia Cottrill sandwiched around a run-scoring SAC fly by Echols) and seventh (with two scoring on a bases-loaded double by Kendyl Lindaman). All told, the Gators got to USA pitchers Olivia Lackey and Jenna Hardy for 11 hits and accounted for 10 RBI.

PLAY OF THE GAME: The first-inning infield hit by Hoover was particularly impressive (a slow roller in the hole behind second base), but it snapped an 0-for-14 tournament slump for the Gators with runners in scoring position. UF was hitless in 12 such instances in its 1-0 triumph over South Florida in opening-round action Friday.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Lugo, the 5-foot-5 right-hander from West Covina, Calif., made the first postseason start of her career and finished with her third complete-game shutout of the season. The Jags didn’t get their second hit of the game (an infield single) until the seventh inning. Lugo began the day with 1.71 ERA and lowered it to 1.51 while improving to 18-2 on the season. Her 11 strikeouts were four more than Lugo’s previous career best. During one stretch over the second and third innings, she fanned five batters in a row.

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STAGGERING STATISTIC: Florida has won nine consecutive regional-round games, dating to the 2017 season, by a combined score of 54-2.

UP NEXT: The Gators (44-9), as the lone unbeaten in the regional field, will have two chances to win one game Sunday and advance to next weekend’s Super Regional round. Depending on outcomes later in the day, UF could get a rematch against the Jaguars (31-20) or face either South Florida (29-18) or Baylor (27-22), who meet in an elimination game Saturday afternoon. The survivor of that one will play USA in an elimination game Saturday night. The one team left standing will have to beat the Gators twice Sunday.

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