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UF Softball: Hightower Hurls No-Hitter; Gators Advance to NCAA Super Regional Round

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY CHRIS HARRY

WHAT HAPPENED: Junior Elizabeth Hightower threw her first career no-hitter Saturday and got a couple big RBI from catcher Julia Cottrill, including a solo homer in the sixth, as the fourth-seeded Gators completed a three-game sweep of their NCAA Tournament home regional with a win Sunday over the Bulls at Pressly Stadium.

Hightower outdueled USF’s All-America ace Georgina Corrick, who threw all four regional games for the Bulls, including a no-hitter against Baylor on Saturday. Corrick came into the game having yielded just one run over three games, that being the walk-off RBI double by UF’s Hannah Adams in Friday night’s first-round meeting. The Gators matched that in the top of the fourth when Charla Echols and Kendyl Lindaman reached on back-to-back singles, then Cottrill lashed an RBI double off the wall in left field. That was the first run Corrick had given up in 23 innings and turned out to be the only one of that stanza. Though UF loaded the bases, Corrick struck out both Baylee Goddard and pinch-hitter Jordan Matthews, then got Cheyenne Lindsey to pop out to first.

Cottrill’s one-out solo homer made it 2-0 in the sixth, and while the Gators went on to load the bases that inning, Corrick kept things close by getting Adams on a grounder to short to end the inning. The Gators got a leadoff single from Emily Wilkie in the top of the seventh, with USF coach Ken Eriksen opting then to pull Corrick after a spectacular weekend in which she threw a combined 29 innings, gave up three runs and 18 hits, struck out 32, and walked only four.

With Corrick gone, Florida blew the game open against South Florida’s bullpen. First came an RBI groundout from Jaimie Hoover with the bases loaded, followed by a grand slam from Sarah Longley, her first homer of the season, which was chased by a solo shot from Cheyenne Lindsey to dead center. UF’s late barrage took the pressure off Hightower, and she finished things off.

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PLAY OF THE GAME: After Hightower walked the leadoff batter, Kyndall Williams, to start the seventh, Bethany Keen bounced a grounder up the middle, just to the left of second base. The ball was past Longley, the UF shortstop, but Adams, the Gators’ second base defensive whiz, gloved the ball deep in the hole and wheeled from her knees to gun down Keen at first. The play kept Hightower’s no-no intact. Hightower put down the next two hitters to etch her name in the Florida record book.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Take a bow, Miss Hightower. UF’s first regional no-hitter since Aleshia Ocasio against Ohio State in 2018 left her with a 16-5 record and 1.43 ERA on the season. Remember, folks, Hightower, who equaled her career best with 10 strikeouts Sunday, was taken from Friday’s game with one out in the seventh in a scoreless tie. So she went 13.1 regional innings without giving up a hit.

STAGGERING STATISTIC: Make that four straight regionals that Florida has gone unbeaten, but make it three straight that the Gators have held their opponents scoreless. UF has won nine straight regional games by a combined 54-2, including seven consecutive shutouts (and now with two by complete-game no hitters).

UP NEXT: The Gators (45-9) will play host to Georgia (32-21) in next weekend’s Gainesville Super Regional. The Bulldogs defeated Duke 10-9 in the finals of their Athens regional Sunday.   ­­

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