Tuesday, March 28, 2017

UF Baseball: No. 12 Florida vs No. 4 LSU Series Recap

The No. 12 Florida Gators (16-9, 2-4 SEC) won their first SEC series of the season as they took two out of three games from the No. 4 LSU Tigers (18-7, 4-2 SEC) in Gainesville. Here is a recap of each game.

Game 1 (March 24th)
In the series opener, the No. 12 Florida Gators (15-9, 1-3 SEC) handed the No. 4 LSU Tigers (17-6, 3-1 SEC) their first conference loss with a slim 1-0 victory.

Junior ace Alex Faedo (4-1, 2.39 ERA) bounced back from his rough outing against Auburn (20-6, 5-1 SEC) and shined under the lights at the Mac. Throwing 114 pitches and walking only two batters, Faedo worked seven strong innings, scattered seven hits, and struck out seven Tigers. Seven seemed to be the magic number for the right-hander.

When Michael Byrne came on in relief for Faedo in the eighth inning, Florida held a 1-0 lead. Byrne faced just two batters. He got the leadoff man to pop up before issuing a walk. That was all Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan needed to see before heading to the bullpen.

Out came true freshman Andrew Baker. With a runner on first base, the left-hander worked a clean frame as he induced a fly out and struck out a batter for the final two outs of the eighth.

In the ninth, true freshman Tyler Dyson entered in an attempt to earn his second collegiate save. It would not be easy as he walked the first batter of the inning. Things then got really interesting when a wild pitch from Dyson put the tying run on second base with nobody out.

In such a tense situation, the true freshman remained unfazed. He settled down and struck out the side to strand the runner at second and secure the Game 1 victory.

Florida banged out just six hits as Tiger ace and future first rounder Alex Lange (3-2, 4.09 ERA) threw an incredible game. The junior went the distance as he tossed eight innings while striking out seven Gators, allowing one earned run, and surrendering just one walk to sophomore third baseman Jonathan India.

Florida's lone run came in the sixth inning of this game. After sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput doubled to lead off the inning, Jonathan India bunted him over to third base. With one out now, junior first baseman JJ Schwarz strode to the plate.

On the first pitch he saw, JJ hit a shot to left field that would have been out had the wind not been blowing in so hard. He had the next best thing though as the ball was deep enough to score Liput and make it 1-0 Gators. JJ didn't have a hit in the contest, but his sac fly would inevitably be the difference.

As for the Gators who did have hits in the contest, Deacon Liput led the way. He was responsible for more than half of the team's offense as he went 3-4 with a double, the only run scored, and his fifth stolen base of the season.

The remaining Florida players with hits were sophomore outfielder Nelson Maldonado (1-3), junior catcher Mike Rivera (1-3), and junior centerfielder Nick Horvath (1-3). All of their base knocks were singles.

Final Takeaway
With this victory, the No. 12 Florida Gators notched their first SEC win of the season and built up some offensive confidence after defeating a pitcher as good as Alex Lange. Before recapping Game 2, here are my final tidbits on Florida's shutout victory:

  • This win against LSU extended the Gators' home winning streak over the Tigers to four.
  • This is the sixth time this season that Florida has shutout an opponent.
  • This is the third time this season that Florida has defeated an opponent by a score of 1-0 at the Mac.
  • Deacon Liput's two-bagger in the game was his fifth of the season.
  • Florida had a chance to chase Alex Lange early when they loaded the bases in the fifth inning with no outs. Alas though, they failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
  • Jonathan India's sac bunt was his third of the season. Christian Hicks also joined him in that department as he laid down his second sac bunt of the season in the bottom of the fifth inning.
  • Ryan Larson had a rough night, as he went 0-3 with three strikeouts.
  • Mike Rivera threw out his sixth baserunner of the year in the top of the first inning.
  • LSU made the only error of the game with a bad throw to first base in the fifth inning, but it did not come back to haunt them.
  • The turnout for this game was slightly disappointing, as only 4,485 fans showed up for this highly touted SEC series opener.

Game 2 (March 25th)
The No. 12 Florida Gators (16-8, 2-3 SEC) won the series against the No. 4 LSU Tigers (17-7, 3-2 SEC) with a dominating 8-1 victory.

Brady Singer (3-1, 1.58 ERA) got the ball with a chance to win the series and did not disappoint. The sophomore right-hander threw the first complete game of his college career as he went nine innings and allowed just one earned run. He scattered six hits, struck out four, hit two batsmen, and walked nobody on a total of 109 pitches.

The Gator bats awoke as they banged out 10 hits to hand LSU's senior left-hander Jared Poche' (5-1, 0.90 ERA) his first loss of 2017. The Gators plated a run in the second through fifth innings as well as the seventh, and then put up a three-spot in the eighth to make sure this game was out of reach.

The middle of Florida's lineup killed it as they combined to go 7-10. Cleanup man JJ Schwarz went 2-5 with a double, three runs scored, an RBI, and his second stolen base of the season. In the five-hole, Nelson Maldonado lived the deuce life as he went a perfect 2-2 with a double, two runs scored, two RBI's, and two walks. Rounding out the trio, Mike Rivera went a perfect 3-3 with a double, two RBI's, and two walks.

The remaining Gators with base hits were Deacon Liput (1-2 with two runs scored, three walks, and three stolen bases), junior shortstop Christian Hicks (1-3 with a double and two RBI's), and senior left fielder Ryan Larson (1-3 with a run scored and a walk).

Final Takeaway
This is the fifth time in Sully's ten-year tenure that the Gators have won the LSU series. Before recapping the series finale, here are my final tidbits on the series clincher:

  • Florida's home winning streak against LSU is now up to six straight games.
  • Florida has now won five straight home series and seven in a row dating back to last season.
  • LSU made one error in the game, which did result in an unearned run. Florida made two errors (both coming from the left side of the infield), which yielded no unearned runs for the Tigers.
  • Christian Hicks showed off his bunting skills for the second straight game as he again laid one down in the fifth inning. He now has three total sac bunts on the year.
  • Florida showed great patience as a team as they drew nine walks in the game.
  • This game had the highest attendance of any in this weekend's series as 4,751 fans came out.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com

Game 3 (March 26th)
In the series finale, the No. 12 Florida Gators (16-9, 2-4 SEC) let the lead slip away late in the game as they fell to the No. 4 LSU Tigers (18-7, 4-2 SEC) by a score of 10-6.

Jackson Kowar (3-0, 2.48 ERA) was on the bump for the Sunday start and kept LSU in check for 5.2 innings. He allowed two earned runs and struck out three, but walked a career-high five batters on a total of 94 pitches thrown.

When Kowar exited the game with two outs in the sixth inning, Florida led 5-0 with LSU runners on second and third. In his place came sophomore Michael Byrne, who proceeded to give up a single that cut the Gator lead to 5-2. A fly out from the next batter would limit the damage.

In the seventh, Byrne was back out there and worked a perfect inning as he sandwiched two strikeouts in-between a fly out. In the bottom half of the inning, Florida would tack on an insurance run to make it 6-2 with two frames remaining in the series.

Once the eighth inning rolled around, everything went south real quick. Byrne gave up a single and then induced a fly out for the first out of the game. With five outs remaining for LSU, Byrne served up a two-run bomb to junior right fielder Greg Deichmann that brought the Tigers within two runs.

Sully had seen enough and went to the bullpen. Out came senior right-hander Frank Rubio to try and get this game to the ninth with the Gator lead intact. That would not be the case. Rubio hit LSU freshman Jake Slaughter with his second pitch out of the pen. Against Tiger designated hitter Beau Jordan he would fare no better.

With the count 2-1, the junior took Rubio deep to left field to knot this game up at six a piece. Unfortunately for the Gators, LSU would not stop there. Rubio was pulled after giving up the second two-run homer of the inning and Andrew Baker came in to try and keep the game tied. He proceeded to hit the first batter he faced and was removed for true freshman right-hander Kirby McMullen.

He too would not escape the LSU long ball, as senior second baseman Cole Freeman tattooed his second pitch of relief for the third two-run dinger of the inning. The Tigers were now up 8-6. McMullen would generate a groundout and walk a guy before being pulled for Tyler Dyson.

A two-run homer would not victimize Dyson as Mike Rivera cut down a runner trying to steal to end the fiasco of the inning. The bullpen had yet again imploded and put a damper on what had been a decent start from Kowar.

In the ninth, LSU showed Dyson some love as they scored two runs off of him to up the lead to 10-6. The last of those runs produce the first out of the inning as it came by means of a sacrifice fly. After a double and a groundout, Dyson hit two straight batters to earn a trip to the showers.

Coming in with the bases loaded was true freshman Nate Brown, who induced a groundout to prevent this game from getting any uglier. In the bottom half of the ninth, Florida would have no offensive response and Andrew Baker would get tagged with his second loss of the year.

Somehow, Florida managed six runs despite only having five hits. They plated a run in back-to-back innings in the third and fourth before erupting for a three-run spot in the fifth. Their final run of the game would come in the seventh, when it appeared a 6-2 lead would be enough to come away with a sweep.

No Gators had multiple hits as five different players registered a base knock. Nelson Maldonado saved Florida from another game without an extra base hit as he hit a solo shot to left field in the fourth inning to extend the lead to 2-0. He finished the game 1-4.

Ahead of Nelly, Jonathan India went 1-4 and collected two RBI's with his bases loaded single in the fifth inning. At that time, it put Florida up 5-0. India also stole his team-leading sixth bag after driving in the two runs.

Matching India with two RBI's on the day was JJ Schwarz. He went hitless (0-2) out of the three-hole, but had a bases loaded walk in the fifth inning to make it 3-0 and a sacrifice fly in the seventh that upped Florida's lead to 6-2.

At the bottom of the lineup, the rest of Florida's hits can be found. Christian Hicks went 1-4 with a run scored out of the seven-hole. Below him, Ryan Larson went 1-2 with two runs scored, a walk, and his fourth swiped bag of the season. Finally, Nick Horvath batted a perfect 1-1 out of the nine-hole with a run scored, one walk, and two stolen bases.

The last Gator I'll mention is Deacon Liput. He went hitless in the game (0-3), but was intentionally walked in the fifth inning and came around to score on the India single with two outs.

Final Takeaway
This was a sour note for No. 12 Florida to end on after playing a fairly good series against No. 4 LSU. Before previewing the week ahead, here are my final tidbits on Game 3 and the series as a whole:

  • Florida is now 11-3 at the Mac against LSU since Sully took over the program in 2008.
  • Florida's six runs given up in the eighth inning are the second most they have allowed in an inning this season.
  • Larson's steal was of home plate and came on a double steal in the third inning.
  • Mike Rivera threw out his seventh and eighth baserunners of the year in the first and eighth innings, respectively.
  • Dalton Guthrie had a dreadful series as he went 0-12 with four strikeouts and one walk. He got thrown out trying to steal the one time he was on base in the bottom of the seventh inning and stranded nine total baserunners. He has still yet to play the field since the March 17th game against Auburn.
  • Jackson Kowar gets hit with his third consecutive no-decision.
  • Florida made two errors in this game with a ground ball getting past Christian Hicks and Tyler Dyson airmailing a throw. Only one of those would result in an unearned run for LSU. The Tigers would also have an error of their own that led to an unearned run for Florida.
  • Florida finished with four errors in the series while LSU had three.
  • Nick Horvath upped his stolen base total to four with his multi-steal effort in this game.
  • JJ's sac fly was his fourth of the season and second of the series. Nick Horvath was unselfish as well as he laid down his first sac bunt in the bottom of the fifth inning.
  • Florida gave up 12 hits to the Tigers in this game. Half of these came in the last two innings.
  • The heat and Gator basketball team in the Elite Eight definitely deterred people, as 3,811 people showed up for the game. This was the lowest total of the weekend.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com

Looking Ahead
With a much-needed series win under their belt, the now No. 9 ranked Florida Gators (16-9, 2-4 SEC) will prepare for some neutral site action as they hook up with the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles (18-7) for their second meeting of the season.

Florida will probably go with a true freshman starter as it seems that FSU could not figure out any of the young Gators who pitched against them last time. Going back to June, Florida has shut out the 'Noles for 31 consecutive innings.

The game is set for 6 p.m. at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. It can be seen on the SEC Network+ and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

After the bout with FSU, the Gators will hit the road for their third SEC series of the year. Their opponent will be the No. 23 Missouri Tigers (21-3, 4-2 SEC) who have surprised everyone with their hot start. This will be the third straight weekend that the Gators play a team whose mascot is the Tigers.

Missouri will want to prove themselves, especially after dropping their opening SEC home series to Arkansas (20-5, 5-1 SEC). From Florida's perspective, they just want to prove to themselves that they can win outside of McKethan Stadium.

The times for the games are 7:30 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday.  All of them can be seen on the SEC Network+ and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

The probable starters for Florida in the Mizzou series are Alex Faedo on Friday, Brady Singer on Saturday, and Jackson Kowar on Sunday. Missouri will counter with a combination of sophomore left-hander Michael Plassmeyer (4-0, 2.73 ERA), junior right-hander Tanner Houck (3-2, 2.80 ERA), and redshirt junior right-hander Cole Bartlett (3-0, 2.87 ERA).

As for now No. 8 ranked LSU (18-7, 4-2 SEC), they head home for the week to face the Tulane Green Wave (9-15) on Tuesday before hosting the Texas A&M Aggies (16-9, 1-5 SEC) in a three-game set at the Box.

A series loss at Florida may have discouraged them, but the comeback win on Sunday should give the Tigers enough fuel in the fire to take care of business in both the midweek contest and their weekend series.



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