Tuesday, April 11, 2017

UF Baseball: No. 7 Florida vs Tennessee Series Recap

Coming off major controversy after the Stetson rainout, the Florida Gators (21-11, 6-6 SEC) dropped their first series to the Tennessee Volunteers (17-12, 3-9 SEC) since the 2008 season. This ends an eight-year streak of series victories over the Vols and is Florida's first home series loss since Mississippi State around this same time last season. Here is a recap of each game.

Game 1 (April 7th)
In the series opener, the No. 7 Florida Gators (21-9, 5-5 SEC) lost a tight one by a score of 7-6 to the Tennessee Volunteers (15-12, 2-8 SEC) in 10 innings.

Junior ace Alex Faedo (5-1, 2.82 ERA) took the mound for Florida and may have had one of his roughest home starts of his career. Going 5.2 innings, Faedo allowed six runs (five earned) on 10 hits while walking and hitting one batter. On the upside, he struck out 12 batters in the contest.

With the Gators down 6-4 and Faedo at 97 pitches, he was taken out of the game in favor of true freshman right-hander Garrett Milchin. The Windermere product inherited a runner on first with two outs in the sixth and induced a groundout on his second pitch to end the Tennessee scoring threat.

He would go on to toss 2.1 solid innings of one-hit relief while striking out two Volunteer batters. After Florida knotted things up at 6-6 in the eighth inning, it was up to closer Michael Byrne. The sophomore worked a perfect ninth as he struck out all three batters he faced. In the tenth however, he ran into some trouble.

Tennessee led off the inning with back-to-back singles before moving the runners over with a sacrifice bunt. With one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position, the Gators issued an intentional walk to eight-hole hitter Reggie Southall to load the bases.

Similar to their March contest against Seton Hall, it would be a sacrifice fly that upended the Gators as pinch hitter Will Heflin smacked a fly ball to right field to plate the go-ahead run. Another intentional walk followed by a strikeout would end the inning and send Florida into the bottom of the tenth needing a rally.

The Gators got a runner on first base, but would fail to do anything as the Vols used a game-ending groundout to take the opener. Byrne would receive his third loss of the 2017 campaign.

Florida's offense looked better as they banged out 13 hits and scored once in the second, twice in the fourth, once in both the fifth and sixth, and once in the eighth inning. However, they still could not figure out the mojo needed to walk off with the victory in the late innings.

Four Gators had multiple hits in this game with the most surprising being senior left fielder Ryan Larson. Accounting for two of Florida's five extra base hits, Larson went 4-5 with a double, a game-tying solo shot in the eighth, a game-high two RBI's, and two runs scored.

Everybody else in the multi-hit club had two hits a piece. Sophomore leadoff man Deacon Liput went 2-6 with an RBI in the sixth inning and his seventh stolen bag of the year in the same inning.

Back in both the lineup and the field for the first time in a week, junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie rejuvenated his bat a bit with a 2-5 night that included a double and a run scored.

Rounding out the crew was junior catcher Mike Rivera. He went 2-4 with a double and a walk. He joined Larson as the only Gators to score twice in the game.

Among the rest of the offense, the Gators with just one hit were sophomore right fielder Nelson Maldonado (1-4 with a walk), junior third baseman Christian Hicks (1-5 with a run scored in the fourth), and true freshman first baseman Keenan Bell (1-5 with an RBI single in the fourth).

Final Takeaway
After yet another heart-breaking extra innings loss, the Gators sure seemed to have received there comeuppance for wronging Stetson. Before recapping the second game of the series, here are my final tidbits on the opener:

  • Florida is now 1-2 in extra inning games this year.
  • Dalton Guthrie's double was his third of the season.
  • Mike Rivera's double was his sixth of the year.
  • Ryan Larson's homer was his third of the year while his double was his second.
  • Of Florida's 10 runners left on base, Deacon Liput stranded five of them.
  • Larson's four hits in this game tied his career-high, which he registered against Florida Gulf Coast on February 20th, 2016.
  • This is the second time that Alex Faedo has struck out 12 batters in a game. Overall, it is the seventh time he has recorded double-digits strikeouts in a game.
  • J.J. Schwarz did not play in this game. I do not know the reason why.
  • Nelson Maldonado has hit safely now in nine consecutive games.
  • As a whole, the Gator pitching staff struck out 18 Vols.

Game 2 (April 8th)
In Game 2, another Tennessee streak came to an end as the No. 7 Florida Gators (21-10, 5-6 SEC) lost another extra inning affair to the Tennessee Volunteers (16-12, 3-8 SEC) by a score of 3-2.

Sophomore right-hander Brady Singer (4-1, 1.60 ERA) took the bump in this game and did well with what minimum run support he had. Singer worked deep into the game as he threw 105 pitches in 7.1 innings. In those frames, he allowed two earned runs on six hits while walking two batters and striking out eight.

When Singer made his departure with one out in the eighth inning, the game was tied at 2-2. On came Nick Horvath, who inherited just one runner at first base. He generated a groundout that moved the runner to second, intentionally walked a batter, and then used a first-pitch pop out to end the inning.

For the ninth, it was yet again Michael Byrne entering in a tied game. He sandwiched a fly out between two strikeouts in the ninth, but like last night he again ran into trouble in the tenth. Byrne gave up a single in-between two strikeouts, but with two outs clean-up hitter Benito Santiago smacked a double off of him to plate the go-ahead run.

Byrne would strike out the final batter of the inning, but again the Vols had best him in extra innings. In the bottom of the frame, the Gators once more sustained no rally as they went down in order on seven pitches. Byrne was issued his fourth loss of the season, despite impressively striking out five of the eight batters he faced.

Florida's offense generated double-digit hits yet again with 11 base knocks, but only had two runs in the fourth inning to show for it. Just two Gators had multiple hits in this one.

Back at it with another hot performance was Ryan Larson. He went 3-5 with a trio of singles and one run scored. Joining him was the unlikely source of junior third string catcher Mark Kolozsvary. Kolo went 3-4 with an RBI triple in the fourth inning and a run scored. He essentially represented all phases of Florida's scoring in this game.

The remaining Gators with one hit were sophomore second baseman Blake Reese (1-5), Mike Rivera (1-3 with a game-high two walks), Nelson Maldonaldo (1-4 with a walk), junior third baseman Christian Hicks (1-5), and true freshman first baseman Garrett Milchin (1-5 with an RBI single in the fourth).

Final Takeaway
Florida's baseball reign over Tennessee had reached a somber conclusion after eight years. Before recapping the series finale, here are my final tidbits on another tough extra innings loss:

  • Florida is now 1-3 in extra inning games this season.
  • Kolo's three-hits are a new career-high for him in a game.
  • Garrett Milchin's RBI in this game was the first of his college career!
  • Florida led this game at one point 2-1 before Tennessee knotted it up in the sixth.
  • Neither JJ Schwarz, Jonathan India, or Deacon Liput played in this game.
  • Kolo's triple was the first of both his career and the season.
  • Dalton Guthrie stole his sixth base of the season in this game.
  • Christian Hicks made his team-leading seventh error of the year after making a bad throw to first base in the top of the fourth inning. A double play would erase his mistake as this was also Florida's only error of the contest.
  • Nelson Maldonado upped his hitting streak to 10 games with a single in the fifth inning.
  • In addition to banging out three hits, Ryan Larson also was responsible for five of the 12 Gator runners left on base in the game.
  • The Gator staff was phenomenal yet again as they struck out 13 Vols.
  • 5,776 fans showed out for this Saturday night contest against the Vols, which is the seventh highest attendance in the Mac's history. 

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com

Game 3 (April 9th)
In the final game of the series, the No. 7 Florida Gators (21-11, 6-6 SEC) avoided the sweep with a 5-4 win over the Tennessee Volunteers (17-12, 3-9 SEC).

Sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (5-0, 2.72 ERA) helped Florida right the ship as he tied Alex Faedo with his fifth win of the season. He tossed 87 pitches in five innings, allowed three earned runs on five hits, walked one batter, struck out three, and hit a batter.

When Kowar's outing was finished, Florida led 5-0 and Tennessee had loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning. Tasked with cleaning up this mess was Garrett Milchin. He entered and hit the first batter he faced on a 2-1 count. It was now 5-1 Florida with still no one out. The next batter popped up and afterwards the Vols got their second run after the Gators narrowly missed completing a double play.

With first and third now with two outs, the Vols smacked another single to make it 5-3. The Gators, however, were able to end the bleeding as Dalton Guthrie took the cutoff and threw out Will Heflin trying to advance to third base.

In the seventh, Milchin allowed a leadoff single before inducing a pop out. He would then be replaced with fellow true freshman Kirby McMullen for the remainder of the inning. Kirby used a fly out and a strikeout to put the Vols away with six outs to go.

In the eighth, McMullen kicked things off by hitting a batter before Gator head coach Kevin O'Sullivan pulled him. He ran out another true freshman in Andrew Baker and watched as the left-hander gave up back-to-back singles to make it 5-4 Florida. A wild pitch that moved runners to second and third sealed Baker's fate as Sully pulled him for Michael Byrne.

As the losing pitcher in the previous two games, Byrne had a real shot at redemption here. His first batter hit a Texas leaguer and it looked like the game was about to be tied. Somehow though, Dalton Guthrie raced over and made a sliding over-the-shoulder catch to keep the Vols runner at third base.

With one out now, Bynre got settled in and struck out the next batter. After a five-pitch walk, the pressure was really on with the bases loaded and the two-hole Justin Ammons up to bat. With the count going 3-2, Byrne induced a ground out to escape the inning with the lead intact.

In the ninth, Byrne returned to the mound to salvage this series. He needed just 11 pitches to generate three straight fly outs and earn his fifth save of the campaign.

Florida's offense had eight hits and scored once in both the second and third as well as three times in the fourth before going dormant for the remainder of the game. Like Saturday, two Gators had multi-hit games.

Nelson Maldonado improved his hitting streak to 11 games as he went 2-4 with a walk and a run scored in the second inning. Two spots below him, Christian Hicks went 2-4 with a run scored in the fourth.

For the rest of the lineup, all but three players had a hit. Deacon Liput went 1-3 with an RBI, a run scored in the fourth, two walks, and two stolen bases. JJ Schwarz went 1-4 with an RBI and a run scored in the only game he played this weekend. Mike Rivera went 1-3 with an RBI single in the fourth and two walks. Finally, Ryan Larson cooled off a tad as he went 1-4 with a hit-by-pich on the day.

Final Takeaway
Not getting swept is definitely a good feeling, but dropping a series for the first time in eight years to the worst team in the SEC has the Gator Faithful a tad concerned. Before previewing the week ahead, here are my final thoughts on the finale and the series as a whole:

  • JJ Schwarz registered his team-leading fifth sacrifice fly in the fourth inning of this game.
  • Jonathan India did not play for the second consecutive game. He finishes the series 0-4 with a strikeout.
  • Deacon Liput's stolen base total is now at nine, which leads this team. This is the second time this season that Deac has stolen multiple bases in a game.
  • It was Dalton Guthrie's turn in the stranded baserunners department as he was responsible for five of the 12 Gators left on base in this game.
  • Though he went hitless the whole weekend, Nick Horvath showed great patience as he drew two walks in this game and three overall in the series.
  • This is the first series this year that Michael Byrne has appeared in every game.
  • This is just the second time in Kevin O'Sullivan's ten-year tenure that the Gators have dropped a series to the Vols.
  • Mark Kolozsvary had a day to forget after his three-hit performance last night as he went 0-3 with three strikeouts.
  • Despite the series being loss, nearly 4,000 fans showed up for the series finale.
  • Florida still holds an impressive 16-5 record at home and is an even 3-3 at the Mac against SEC opponents this year.
  • Jackson Kowar and Nelson Maldonado were responsible for the two Florida errors in this game. Kowar made an bad throw to first base with two outs in the fourth inning and Nelly made a bad throw that allowed runners to advance to second and third in the top of the eighth.
  • On that note, Florida had three errors on the weekend while Tennessee had four. The Vols made at least one error in every game.
  • This is the third game this year where the Florida Gators have not registered an extra-base hit.
  • This is the second consecutive series where every game was decided by one run.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com

Looking Ahead
With this rough weekend behind them, the now No. 10 ranked Florida Gators (21-11, 6-6 SEC) will prepare for their final regular season face-off with the No. 25 Florida State Seminoles (21-13) in Tallahassee this upcoming Tuesday. With the season series already Florida's, hopefully the Gators will not get complacent and come out with some real motivation to sweep their rival for the second straight year.

The game is set for 6 p.m. It can be seen on the ACC Network Extra and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network. The starting pitcher for Florida will most likely be true freshman Nate Brown (1-0, 3.55 ERA), who has seen action in both games against the 'Noles this year.

With Sully though, always expect the unexpected. I would anticipate FSU will throw Andrew Karp (0-2, 4.84 ERA), who started the past two midweek contests against the Orange and Blue.

For the weekend series, the Gators will hit the road for a tough matchup against the Vanderbilt Commodores (21-12, 6-6 SEC). Do not let the fact that Vandy is unranked fool you. This team is good. They were in back-to-back College World Series Finals in 2014 and 2015 and won it all back in 2014.

They are even in the SEC East with Florida at 6-6, so this is a big series in regards to creating separation and catching up to the leader in the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats (22-11, 8-4 SEC). Add in the factor that this game is taking place at Hawkins Field -where Vandy is 13-6 and 2-1 in SEC play- and the Gators have quite a mountain to climb. Hawkins may hold just 3,700, but any baseball fan knows a ticket for Vandy-Florida will be tough to find. The place will be rocking all weekend.

Due to the Easter holiday this Sunday, the series will start Thursday and conclude Saturday. The start times for the games are 9 p.m. on Thursday, 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and 3 p.m. on Saturday. Florida's probable starters are the usual suspects as Alex Faedo will throw on Thursday night, Brady Singer will get the ball on Friday night, and Jackson Kowar will finish off the series on Saturday afternoon. It is a short week of rest for everyone, so it will be interesting to see how they respond.

For Vandy, they have quite a staff to counter with. They will most likely trot out the likes of junior right-hander Kyle Wright (1-4, 4.81 ERA), sophomore right-hander Patrick Raby (5-3, 2.49 ERA), and true freshman right-hander Drake Fellows (3-1, 2.79 ERA).

The series opener can be seen on ESPNU, Game 2 can be seen on the SEC Network+, and Game 3 can be seen on ESPN2. All of them can be heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

As for Tennessee (17-12, 3-9 SEC), they are still at the bottom of the SEC as the second worst team in the conference. They will ride the momentum of this series win as they head into a road contest against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers (14-15). For their weekend series, they will play host to the No. 13 Auburn Tigers (24-10, 8-4 SEC) in Knoxville. Like Florida's series, these games will go from Thursday through Saturday.



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