Wednesday, March 22, 2017

UF Baseball: No. 12 Florida Survives Stetson in Extra Innings

The No. 12 Florida Gators (14-8) avoided another midweek upset with a close 9-8 road victory over the Stetson Hatters (8-15) in 11 innings this past Tuesday.

True freshman Nate Brown (1-0, 3.18 ERA) got his number called as he made his third career collegiate start in this game. He went just 2.1 innings and gave up one earned run on five hits while walking one batter. With Florida down 1-0 and a runner on second with one out in the bottom of the third inning, Brown was pulled for junior left-hander Nick Horvath.

Horvath went 2.1 innings as well and gave up one earned run on four hits with three strikeouts. When he exited with two outs in the fifth, Florida was winning 4-2. In his place came sophomore Michael Byrne, who worked the most relief innings out of all Gator pitchers.

Byrne allowed three hits in 2.2 innings out of the bullpen and gave up two runs in the eighth inning to knot the score up at four a piece. On the bright side, he struck out five of the 11 batters he faced. With the score tied again and a man on first base with one out, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan opted to go with his de facto closer Tyler Dyson.

The true freshman came in and served up a double to put runners on second and third, but he would work out of it. He induced a ground ball that cut the lead runner at the plate and struck out the next batter to keep the game tied. In the ninth inning, Dyson had runners on first and second with two outs. Thankfully, he would generate a groundout to third baseman Jonathan India to send the game to extra innings.

Once the tenth inning rolled around, Dyson had an 8-4 lead to work with. However, two straight singles would prompt Sully to pull him. He would finish the night with four hits allowed, two strikeouts, and one walk.

With no outs and runners on first and second, true freshman Garrett Milchin was tasked with closing the game out. He gave up a double that cut the lead to 8-5 and registered a strikeout before being pulled with two outs remaining in the contest.

The floor was now Andrew Baker's. The true freshman left-hander entered with runners on second and third and a chance to seize the closer role. He would give up a single that cut the lead to 8-6 and put runners on the corners with still one out. Both those runs were charged to Tyler Dyson.

Baker settled down and recorded a strikeout to make it two outs. Florida was now an out away from ending their road woes. Behind in the count 2-1, Baker gave up a single that made it 8-7 and put runners on first and second with still two down. The run would be charged to Milchin. 

Stetson was not going to go away that easy, especially with cleanup-hitter Jack Gonzalez at the plate. Baker fell behind 1-0 to start the at-bat, and the next pitch was sent into center field for the game-tying single. After giving up four runs in the top half, the Hatters miraculously found away to earn all of them back. 

With Stetson in walk off territory, Sully made his third pitching change of the inning and brought in true freshman Kirby McMullen to try and get Florida to an eleventh inning. McMullen remained cool under pressure and induced a fly out with runners on first and second to end the threat.

In the eleventh inning, the Gators scratched across a run to take a 9-8 advantage into the bottom half of the frame. McMullen was back out there to try and seal the deal. He would work a perfect inning, striking out the first two batters and then producing a ground out that he himself fielded and fired to first base to end the four-hour contest. It would be the second victory of both McMullen's career and season.

Florida's offense showed up as the Gators banged out 13 hits. The incredible part about that is that all of them were singles. The Gators did not have a single extra-base hit in this game. In terms of scoring, they had two four-spots in both the fourth and tenth innings while scoring the deciding run in the eleventh.

Four Gators had multiple hits in the extra inning affair tonight. In the two-hole as the designated hitter, Dalton Guthrie went 2-4 with two runs scored, a walk, and his fifth stolen base of the season. Down in the cleanup spot, JJ Schwarz's bat finally came to life as he went 3-6 with two runs scored and two RBI's.

Right behind JJ, Jonathan India went 2-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Rounding out the offense, catcher Mike Rivera showed that his wrist was no problem as he went 2-5 with a run scored and two RBI's.

Interestingly enough, everyone in the Gator catching corps had multiple RBI's in this game. Joining JJ and Rivera, third-stringer Mark Kolozsvary had a pinch hit knock that plated two in the top of the tenth inning to give Florida a 6-4 lead. Two batters later, Rivera would drive in his pair to up the score to 8-4 Florida.

The ultimate hero for the Gators tonight was junior Christian Hicks. Going just 1-5 on the night, Hicks had the biggest RBI in the top of the eleventh inning with the bases loaded and one out. On the first pitch he saw, Hicks hit a high chopper that went over the pitcher's head and towards first base. Stetson's only play would be at first and Kirby McMullen came across to give the Gators a 9-8 lead.

Final Takeaway
An 11-inning victory over Stetson after blowing a four-run lead was probably not preferred, but nonetheless it gives Florida their first road win of 2017. Before previewing this weekend's series, here are my final tidbits on the midweek triumph:

  • Florida has now won five straight games over the Hatters.
  • Though Florida had an impressive 13 hits, Stetson one-upped them with 20 hits in the game!
  • Stetson had six guys with multiple hits in the game. Leadoff man Jacob Koos led the way as he went 4-6 with a double, two runs scored, and an RBI.
  • Jonathan India laid down two crucial sacrifice bunts in both the tenth and eleventh innings. They were his first two of the season. Christian Hicks also laid down his first successful sac bunt of the season in the tenth as well.
  • The game-winning run for Florida marks the first scored run of Kirby McMullen's collegiate career. He also worked his first collegiate walk to kickstart the inning.
  • Mike Rivera threw out his fifth baserunner of the year in the first inning of the game.
  • Even though the offense picked up, the patience at the plate was nonexistent as Florida's hitters struck out 16 times. It was just as bad for Stetson as 14 Hatters went down on strikes.
  • Five Gators struck out multiple times in this game. Andrew Baker registered a golden sombrero as he went 0-6 with four K's, Ryan Larson (1-5) and Deacon Liput (0-4) both had three K's, and Dalton Guthrie and JJ both struck out twice.
  • With this win, the Gators are now 1-6 in road games.
  • This is the third time this season that Florida's bullpen has blown a lead in the ninth inning or later.
  • Florida is now 1-1 in extra inning games.
  • This is just the second time all year that Florida has not had an extra-base hit in a game.

Looking Ahead
With their three-game losing streak over and the offense showing positive signs, the No. 12 Florida Gators (14-8, 0-3 SEC) will prepare for their opening SEC home series against the No. 4 LSU Tigers (16-5, 3-0 SEC).

The Gators swept the Tigers the last time they came to the Mac in 2014. Since Sully started coaching at Florida in 2008, the Gators are 9-3 against LSU at the Mac. A good home edge is what Florida needs after these recent road struggles. This is not a must-win series, but a series win/sweep would be real good for both Florida's confidence and their spot in the SEC standings.

The probable weekend starters for Florida are junior right-hander Alex Faedo (3-1, 2.93 ERA) on Friday night, sophomore right-hander Brady Singer (2-1, 1.74 ERA) on Saturday afternoon, and sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (3-0, 2.35 ERA) on Sunday afternoon.

LSU will trot out junior right-hander Alex Lange (3-1, 5.04 ERA), senior left-hander Jared Poche' (5-0, 0.25 ERA), and freshman right-hander Eric Walker (3-0, 2.67 ERA) as their starters for this weekend.

The start times for all three games are 7 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 p.m. on Sunday. All but Game 2 can be seen on the the SEC Network (Game 2 will be televised on ESPN2). All of the games can be heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

As for the Stetson Hatters (8-15), all they have is a moral victory after nearly upsetting No. 12 Florida in DeLand. Their next stop will be in NOLA for the weekend as they take on the Tulane Green Wave (7-13) in a three-game set.



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