Monday, April 3, 2017

UF Baseball: No. 9 Florida vs No. 23 Missouri Series Recap

The No. 9 Florida Gators (20-9, 5-4 SEC) earned their first SEC sweep of the season as they defeated the No. 23 Missouri Tigers (21-7, 4-5 SEC) in Columbia. The Gators won all three games by one run, and here is a recap of each game.

Game 1 (March 31st)
In the series opener, the No. 9 Florida Gators (18-9, 3-4 SEC) notched their first SEC road win with a 4-3 victory over the No. 23 Missouri Tigers (21-4, 4-3 SEC).

Junior ace Alex Faedo (5-1, 2.18 ERA) set the tone for the weekend as he took the ball for the Friday night start. Tossing 117 pitches in 7.2 innings of work, Faedo allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits, struck out seven, walked one, and hit three batters.

When Faedo exited with two outs in the eighth inning, Florida held a 4-2 lead. In his place came true freshman left-hander Andrew Baker, who inherited Mizzou runners on first and second. He would face just one batter and give up an RBI single that cut the lead to 4-3. On top of that, the Tigers moved the tying run at third base.

With the game hanging in the balance, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan made a move to the bullpen and brought in sophomore closer Michael Byrne. With the tying run 90 feet away, Byrne remained cool under pressure and registered a three-pitch strikeout to end the threat.

In the ninth, Byrne needed just four pitches as he induced a ground out, a line out, and a long fly out to secure the Game 1 victory and his third save of the season. In the process, Alex Faedo earned his fifth win of the season.

Florida had nine hits as a team as they scored in the first, third, and sixth innings. Three Gators had multiple hits in the contest.

First was Deacon Liput. Out of the leadoff spot, the sophomore second baseman went 3-5 with a double, a stolen base, and a run scored. He would score the first run of the game on a JJ Schwarz single in the first inning.

Next was Mike Rivera. Going 2-3 on the day, the junior catcher had a two-run blast in the sixth inning to extend the lead to 4-0. It was his second home run of the season. Right behind Rivera, junior shortstop Christian Hicks logged a 2-3 night with his fourth stolen base of the year.

Besides JJ going 1-5, the only other Gator with one hit was sophomore outfielder Nelson Maldonado. He went 1-3 and scored on Rivera's homer.

Final Takeaway
This was a crucial win for the Gators in such a tight game on the road. Before recapping Game 2, here are my final tidbits on the one-run victory:

  • Christian Hicks laid down his team-leading fourth sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning of this game.
  • Liput's stolen bag in this game was his sixth of the season.
  • Nick Horvath had another brutal night at the plate as he went 0-3 with three strikeouts, but he did score the second Florida run of the game in the third inning on a fielder's choice.
  • Ryan Larson made the lone Gator error of this game as he misjudged a fly ball in the eighth inning.
  • Jonathan India did not play in this game. I do not know what the reason was.
  • Making his first batting appearance of the year in the ninth inning, Michael Byrne drew a walk. 
  • It seems that fans have still not bought into Missouri as a legitimate baseball program. There were only 1,034 in attendance at Taylor Stadium.

Game 2 (April 1st)
The No. 9 Florida Gators (19-9, 4-4 SEC) won their second consecutive SEC series with a 2-1 victory over the No. 23 Missouri Tigers (21-5, 4-4 SEC) on a brisk afternoon.

Sophomore right-hander Brady Singer (3-1, 1.47 ERA) replicated his performance from last weekend as he went the distance for the second consecutive game. In those nine hard-earned innings that featured over 121 pitches, Singer allowed one earned run on just three hits while striking out four and walking three. He was masterful in this game and well-deserving of his fourth win of the season.

Florida again swung the bat well as they banged out eight hits, but only managed to scratch across two runs in the fourth inning.

Trailing 1-0 early after Mizzou tacked one on in the second, the Gators used a Jonathan India solo home run and a Christian Hicks RBI single to take a 2-1 lead that would hold for the remainder of the game.

Hicks again had himself a multi-hit game and was one of two Gators to accomplish the feat. He went 2-4 with his 10th RBI of the season. The other Gator with two hits was JJ Schwarz. Starting to slowly figure it out, JJ went 2-3 with his fifth double of the year and was the one who scored on Hicks's single. He had Florida's only walk in the contest as well.

Joining Jonathan India with one hit in the game, both Nelson Maldonado and Mike Rivera went 1-4 in the game while Nick Horvath went 1-2.

Final Takeaway
This win put the Gators at .500 in SEC play and helped boost their rising confidence with a second straight one-run victory. Before recapping the final game, here are my final tidbits on the series clincher:

  • Brady Singer was marvelous in his complete game, but did have some rough patches. He had a throwing error in the first inning and balked in the fifth inning. That balk was Brady's third of the year.
  • From the sixth inning on, Singer faced the minimum with a double play helping him out in the eighth inning. 
  • India's home run was his team-leading fourth of the season. He also regained the team lead in stolen bases as he swiped his seventh bag of the 2017 campaign.
  • Tiger true freshman reliever TJ Sikkema was pretty effective upon entering in the fourth inning. He ate up 5.2 innings and allowed no runs on just two hits while walking one and hitting one.

*All stats accredited to

Game 3 (April 2nd)
In the series finale, the No. 9 Florida Gators (20-9, 5-4 SEC) again won by a score of 2-1 to sweep the No. 19 Missouri Tigers (21-7, 4-5 SEC) on the road.

Sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (4-0, 2.40 ERA) got the ball for Florida and went to work to earn his fourth win of the season. In five innings, he allowed just one earned run on six hits while striking out four, walking five for the second straight game, and hitting a batter.

After a leadoff walk in the sixth, Kowar's day was over on 88 pitches. When he departed, the Gators led 2-1 and had to rely on the bullpen for the remaining four innings. First to take the mound was true freshman left-hander Austin Langworthy.

Seeing his first pitching action since March 8th, Langworthy induced a groundout before allowing the runner to reach second base on a wild pitch. A walk would end Langworthy's day and prompt Kevin O'Sullivan to inset another true freshman in Garrett Milchin to keep the Florida lead intact.

With runners on first and second, Milchin used two groundouts to work out of the jam and keep Florida ahead. In the seventh, Milchin worked past a throwing error with a double play and then bypassed a four-pitch walk with an inning-ending strikeout.

In the eighth, Milchin struck out the first batter of the inning before giving up a double. Looking to stymie any kind of rally, O'Sullivan looked to closer Michael Byrne to finish this game with a five-out save. The sophomore used a ground out and a fly out to still keep Florida ahead by a run.

In the ninth, Byrne barely broke a sweat as he sandwiched a strikeout between a fly out and the game-ending groundout. Florida had completed the sweep and Byrne was awarded his fourth save of the season.

Florida's offense took a few small steps back as they had only five hits while again scoring two runs. The Gators plated one run each in both the first and second innings before shutting down offensively for the remainder of the game.

JJ Schwarz was the only Gator with multiple hits as he went 2-4 on the day. His first of those two hits was a big one, however, as he belted a solo shot in the first inning to put Florida on the board first.

In the very next inning, Ryan Larson would come through with an RBI double that scored Blake Reese. It was Larson's first double of the season and only hit as he finished 1-3 on the day. The remaining two hits in the Gator lineup came from Nelson Maldonado (1-3) and Mike Rivera (1-4 with a double in the sixth inning).

Final Takeaway
For the Gators to go on the road and take all three games from a surging team like Mizzou was absolutely huge. Not to mention as well that the Gators remained poised in close contests as every game of this series was decided by just one run.

Before previewing the upcoming week, here are my final tidbits on both Game 3 and the series sweep as a whole:

  • Jackson Kowar ran into some trouble in the fifth inning as Missouri loaded the bases with no outs and Florida up 2-0. However, he showed some real maturity as he generated a double play ball and a strikeout to limit the damage to just one run.
  • Kowar helped himself out in the third inning as he picked off a runner for the second out.
  • Nick Horvath had the defensive play of the game in the fourth inning as he fielded a single in center field and threw out the potential game-tying run at the plate. It was Horvath's third assist of the year and ended the inning.
  • Blake Reese showed good patience at the plate as he drew two walks in the game. He also nabbed his third stolen base of the year in the contest.
  • JJ's homer was his third of the year.
  • Mike Rivera's double was his fifth of the season.
  • Nelson Maldonado had a hit in every game of the series. He's currently on an eight-game hitting streak!
  • Dalton Guthrie was a non-factor against Mizzou as he went 0-4 Friday night and did not play in the last two games.
  • Christian Hicks made the lone Gator error of the game as he airmailed a throw in the seventh inning.
  • This is the first time since their series against Connecticut in 2014 that the Gators won all three games by just one run.
  • Florida is now 12-3 all-time against Missouri and has swept the Tigers in back-to-back seasons. Overall, this is their third sweep of Missouri since the teams starting facing each other in 2013.
  • Florida's pitchers combined for seven walks in this game. 
  • As a whole, Missouri played better defense than the Gators did as they made just one error to Florida's three. The Gators had a miscue in every game of the series.
  • The attendance for the finale was atrocious as only 658 fans showed up.

*All stats accredited to

Looking Ahead
Looking at a possible leap into the Top 5 and tied for third place with Mizzou in the SEC East standings, the No. 9 Florida Gators (20-9, 5-4 SEC) are in a great position after their second conference road series of the season. They will now have four straight games at the Mac after improving their road record to 4-6.

First up will be a rematch with the Stetson Hatters (13-17) on Tuesday. In their first meeting on March 21st in DeLand, the Gators needed 11 innings to escape with a 9-8 victory. Hopefully, things will not be as close as freshman Austin Langworthy (1-0, 4.00 ERA) or Nate Brown (1-0, 3.55 ERA) will get the start for the Orange and Blue.

For the weekend series, the Gators will host the rival Tennessee Volunteers (15-10, 1-8 SEC), who are the worst team in the SEC at the moment. Florida has had Tennessee's number on the diamond as they have won eight consecutive series over the Vols. Hopefully the Gators will be able to keep this winning streak against Tennessee intact after the weekend is over.

The weekend starters will be the usual suspects as Alex Faedo throws on Friday night, Brady Singer gets the ball on Saturday night, and Jackson Kowar takes the bump on Sunday afternoon. For Tennessee, they will trot out some combination of senior right-hander Hunter Martin (4-2, 3.10 ERA), freshman right-hander Zach Linginfelter (1-3, 4.88 ERA), junior left-hander Zach Warren (2-2, 5.52 ERA), or sophomore right-hander Will Neely (1-1, 5.55 ERA).

The start times for each game are 5 p.m. on Friday, 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 p.m. on Sunday. All of the games can be seen on the SEC Network+ and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

As for the No. 23 Missouri Tigers (21-7, 4-5 SEC), it can be expected that they will drop out of the Top 25 after getting swept at home. Now on a five-game losing streak, they will head up north to play the Illinois Fighting Illini (9-16) in a neutral site game before heading to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (13-16, 3-6 SEC) in a three-game set.



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