Thursday, June 8, 2017

UF Baseball: No. 3 Florida Survives the Gainesville Regional

In uncharacteristic fashion, the No. 3 national seeded Florida Gators (45-17) needed a Game 7 to advance out of regional play at the Mac. Blessed (in my opinion) with one of the more easier regions in the NCAA Tournament, the Gators defeated Marist (32-23), USF (42-19), and Bethune-Cookman (36-25) on route to the 12th super regional appearance in program history. Here is a recap of each game!

Marist (Regional Opener)
In their first game of the 2017 postseason, the No. 3 Florida Gators (43-16) defeated the Marist Red Foxes (32-22) by a score of 10-6.

Making his first-ever Friday night start, sophomore right-hander Jackson Kowar (12-0, 3.72 ERA) remained perfect on the year. Going 5.1 innings, Kowar allowed five runs (two earned) on eight hits. He struck out four, and walked and hit just one batter.

At 99 pitches, Kowar was removed with one out in the top of the sixth inning with the score 7-4 and a runner on first base. In his place came senior side-armer Frank Rubio. He would give up two hits that would cut the lead to 7-6 before ending the inning with a ground out and a strikeout.

After giving up a single with one out in the seventh, Rubio was replaced with sophomore closer Michael Byrne. Tasked with the eight-out save, Byrne struck out a batter and induced a ground out to end the threat.

In the eighth, Byrne was perfect as he sandwiched a ground out between two more strikeouts. For the final frame, Florida held a 10-6 lead as Byrne went to close it out. After getting a ground out for the first out, he allowed a single that would quickly be erased with the game-ending double play.

The victory would be Kowar's 12th of the season and Byrne would add to his record-breaking season with his 15th save of 2017.

Florida banged out just eight hits while scoring 10 runs. They plated four in the second, one in the third through fifth innings, and three in the eighth.

Two Gators had multiple hits in the contest. In the six-hole, junior first baseman Christian Hicks went 2-3 with two runs scored and a walk. At the bottom of the lineup in the nine-hole, junior center fielder Nick Horvath had a night to remember. He went 2-3 with a run scored, an RBI single in the second inning, and a career-best three stolen bases!

For the rest of the Gator lineup, just four other players had base knocks. At the top of the lineup, sophomore third baseman Jonathan India went 1-4 with two RBI's and a sacrifice fly. In the three-hole, junior catcher JJ Schwarz provided the Gators with some major insurance late in the game.

With two runners on and two outs in the eighth inning, JJ smoked a 3-1 pitch over the left field wall to extend the lead to 10-7. It would be his only hit of the evening and team-leading 10th long ball of the season.

In the five-hole, freshman left fielder Austin Langworthy went 1-4 with a run scored and a walk. Two spots down in the seven-hole, junior designated hitter Mike Rivera went 1-3 with a run scored, three RBI's, and a sacrifice fly.

Even though he went hitless on the evening, sophomore right fielder Nelson Maldonaldo got himself on base in three of his five plate appearances. He drew a game-high three walks and capitalized on two of them as he scored twice. Joining him was junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie, who was 0-4 but scored after drawing a walk in the eighth.

Florida's defense was very shoddy as they committed three errors in the game. Jonathan India had a throwing error in the second inning that led to a 1-0 Marist lead. Dalton Guthrie made a fielding error in the fourth that cut the Gator lead to 5-2.

Finally, Jackson Kowar made a throwing error right after Guthrie's mishap that would eventually lead to two unearned Marist runs. This would trim the Gator lead to 5-4.

Marist had two mistakes of their own that hurt their upset chances. Both were from sophomore shortstop Randy Tavares. He had a fielding error in the second and a throwing error in the fourth that would both result in Florida Gator runs.

Final Takeaway
After avoiding a cataclysmic upset, the Florida Gators would turn their attention to a revenge bout with the USF Bulls. Before recapping that game though, here are my final tidbits on the regional opening victory over Marist:

  • This was Florida's first-ever meeting with Marist in the sport of baseball.
  • Florida is now 12-5 all-time in regional openers.
  • This is the ninth game this season where Florida has scored double-digit runs.
  • This is Hicks' 17th and Horvath's first multi-hit game of the season.
  • Horvath now has six stolen bases on the year.
  • India now has five sac flies on the year while Rivera has two.
  • In the second inning of this game, sophomore second baseman Deacon Liput laid down his fourth sacrifice bunt of the season.
  • JJ Schwarz threw out his eighth runner of the year to end the top of the first inning.
  • Marist's top offensive performers (Part I) were: senior outfielder Tyler Kirkpatrick (2-5 with a double and two runs scored), Randy Tavares (2-4 with two RBI's and their lone walk of the game), and redshirt freshman first baseman Tyler Kapuscinski (2-4 with a run scored).
  • Marist's top offensive performers (Part II) were: Redshirt senior center fielder Matt Pagano (2-4 with a run scored and an RBI) and sophomore second baseman Anthony Lazar (2-4 with two runs scored)
  • 2,390 (my friends and I included) showed out for this mighty clash between Florida and Marist.

*All stats accredited to

USF (Regional Semifinal)
In the regional semifinal, the No. 3 Florida Gators (44-16) faced the USF Bulls (42-18) for the second time this year. Earlier this season on May 9th, the Bulls defeated the Gators at the Mac by a score of 15-10. In that game, the Florida pitching staff issued 17 WALKS.

It would be different this time around. In 12 innings, the Gators defeated the Bulls by a score of 5-1 to advance to the regional final.

Florida sent their ace to the mound in junior right-hander Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.70 ERA). He was untouchable to say the least. In seven innings of work, he allowed one earned run on four hits while striking out ten! He walked only two batters while hitting one. After walking the leadoff man in the eighth, Faedo departed at 106 pitches with the score knotted up 1-1.

From the eighth on, closer Michael Byrne put on an unforgettable performance. In five scoreless innings of relief, he allowed just three hits while striking out eight and walking three (one intentionally). Twice (in the eighth and tenth) did the Bulls get a runner to second against Byrne, but the sophomore would not fold.

When the offense got Byrne a 5-1 lead to work with in the 12th inning, the lights were all but out for USF. They got a runner to third with two outs, but he would not score as Byrne struck out the final batter to end the game. He threw a total of 82 pitches in the outing and in the process earned his third win of the season.

The Florida offense was anemic as they banged out eight hits and scored just one run in nine innings. It was not until the 12th inning that the Gator bats came to life. Here's how it all unfolded:

12th Inning
Christian Hicks kicked off the inning with a single. Blake Reese would come in to pinch-run for him. Deacon Liput struck out trying to bunt for the first out. Then things really got exciting. When USF reliever Andrew Perez picked off to first base, the throw went wild. Reese went scampering around second and slid into third base safe.

As Reese slid into the bag though, the ball went sailing! Instinctively, Reese got up and bolted home to score the go-ahead run. This ignited the Florida offense. Nick Horvath singled to center field and advanced to second when Jonathan India worked a walk.

After a USF pitching change, Horvath and India advanced on a wild pitch. Up now was Dalton Guthrie, who drew a walk to load the bases. At the plate now was three-hole man JJ Schwarz. He did not hit a grand slam, but his ground out would plate Horvath and move the runners to make it 3-1 Florida.

With two outs now, Nelson Maldonaldo singled up the middle to score both India and Guthrie to make it 5-1 Florida. Nelly would advance on a wild pitch before Mike Rivera lined out to end the threat.

Offensive Performers
Dalton Guthrie was the only Gator with multiple hits as the lineup struggled tonight. He went 2-4 with a pair of singles, a run scored, and a walk. For the rest of the batting order, it was more of the same as the Gators had no extra-base hits in the contest.

From the three-hole, JJ Schwarz went 1-5 with a run scored, an RBI, and a walk. Behind him, Nelly went 1-5 with a game-high two RBI's and a walk as the cleanup man. In the five-hole, Mike Rivera was 1-6 with an RBI single in the fourth inning.

Batting seventh, Austin Langworthy went 1-5. Behind him, Christian Hicks went 1-3 with his key leadoff hit in the 13th. Rounding out the offense, Nick Horvath went 1-5 with a run scored.

Fortunately for Florida, they were flawless defensively. USF was not. The Bulls made three errors, with two of them occurring in the 13th from sophomore pitcher Andrew Perez and sophomore first baseman Joe Genord.

Final Takeaway
The Gators ultimately won the game that mattered over USF as they advanced to the regional final for the third consecutive season. Before recapping their battles with Bethune-Cookman, here are my final tidbits on the semifinal victory:

  • This is the sixth game this season where Florida did not record an extra-base hit.
  • This is Guthrie's 19th multi-hit game of the season.
  • This is Faedo's seventh no decision of the season and his second double-digit strikeout game of the year.
  • Florida is now 60-25 all-time against USF.
  • Florida is now 3-1 all-time against USF in regional play.
  • This is the second time this year that Michael Byrne has delivered five innings of relief. When Florida was down big to FGCU on March 7th, Byrne came in and tossed a season-high 96 pitches.
  • USF's top offensive performer was junior outfielder Duke Stunkel. He went 3-5 with a walk and the RBI single that tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning.
  • Though hitless, Jonathan India drew two walks in the contest.
  • 2,954 fans were in attendance for this extra-inning thriller.

*All stats accredited to

Bethune-Cookman (Regional Final)
To the shock of everyone except Bethune-Cookman, this regional final would need a deciding extra game. In this Sunday night matchup, the Wildcats (36-24) upset the No. 3 Florida Gators (44-17) by a score of 6-2.

The Gators trotted out sophomore right-hander Brady Singer (7-5, 3.48 ERA) for the potential clincher. Coming off his disastrous outing against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, Brady again struggled. Though he gave the Gators 7.1 innings, he got tagged for five runs (four earned) on 10 hits. He did have eight strikeouts, but also a walk and a hit batsmen.

Combine that with another rough outing from the offense and Florida's fate was sealed. When Singer was pulled with one out in the eighth, he was at 112 pitches and BCU had the bases loaded. Not to mention that Florida was trailing 3-2 as well.

In to limit the damage was right-hander Frank Rubio. He would allow all three runs to score on back-to-back hits with just one of them being charged to him. He would use an outfield assist from Austin Langworthy and a strikeout to end the inning, but the Wildcats were now up 6-2. Frank would toss a scoreless ninth, which at the very least would be a confidence booster going forward.

Singer would get pinned with his fifth loss of the season, as this was just the second time in 2017 that he suffered back-to-back losses.

The Florida offense mustered five hits while scoring twice in the second inning and that was it. No one had a multiple hits and for the second straight game Florida failed to record an extra-base hit.

Deacon Liput was responsible for the only Gator runs as he smacked a game-tying single that plated two in the second inning. He finished 1-3 with those two RBI's.

For the rest of Florida's lineup:

Jonathan India went 1-4 as the leadoff man, JJ Schwarz was 1-3 with a walk, Mark Kolozsvary was 1-3 with a run scored, Nick Horvath went 1-3, and Mike Rivera went hitless but scored on the Liput single. It was a rough offensive day at the Mac to say the least.

Two defensive miscues from the Gators did not help their cause at all with Singer struggling and the offense nonexistent. In the second inning, Brady Singer made a throwing error that led to a run and gave BCU a 2-0 lead. In the ninth, Deacon Liput misplayed a ground ball, but it would not lead to anymore runs.

For BCU, redshirt junior shortstop Demetrius Sims made a fielding error with two outs in the first inning. This would not hurt the Wildcats though, as the Gators did not score.

Final Takeaway
After a shocking upset in their own stadium, Florida would need to figure out how to snatch one more 'W' to keep their season alive. With all their weekend starters out of commission and the offense unresponsive, that looked nearly impossible.

Before recapping the final game of the regional, here are my final tidbits on the Bethune-Cookman loss:

  • Before their Sunday night loss to BCU, Florida was 31-0 against the Wildcats. Wow!
  • This is the seventh game this season where Florida did not record an extra-base hit.
  • BCU's top offensive performers (Part I) were: junior left fielder Adonis Lao (2-4) and sophomore first baseman Danny Rodriguez (2-5 with a double and a run scored).
  • BCU's top offensive performers (Part II) were: junior right fielder Kyle Corbin (2-2 with two runs scored, a stolen base, and BCU's lone walk of the game) and sophomore second baseman Nate Sterijevski (4-4 with a double, two runs scored, and four RBI's).
  • BCU freshman reliever Anthony Maldonaldo was sensational. He threw four no-hit innings of relief to earn his first save of the year.
  • 2,077 fans were in attendance for this historic upset.

*All stats accredited to

Bethune-Cookman (Regional Final II)
In this do-or-die regional final, the No. 3 Florida Gators (45-17) emerged victorious over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (36-25) by a score of 6-1.

With their pitching options exhausted, the Gators called upon freshman right-hander Kirby McMullen (0-0. 4.91 ERA). Making his first-career collegiate start, the Ocala product kept the Wildcats off the board in 2.2 innings. He allowed three hits and struck out and hit one batter.

When Kirby was pulled in the third inning, BCU had runners on first and second with two outs in a scoreless game. In to pitch for the first time since April 11th was left-hander Austin Langworthy. Coming out of left field (literally), Austin was brilliant. He recorded a strikeout to end the BCU threat and gave the Gators four scoreless innings of relief.

In those four frames he allowed just one earned run on three hits while striking out three, walking one, and hitting a batter. After giving up his first and only run in the seventh, Langworthy was removed with two outs and runners on the corners.

The third pitcher for Florida would be none other than Michael Byrne! On just one day of rest the Gator closer was out there to protect a 4-1 lead. With a 2-2 count on leadoff hitter Demetrius Sims, Byrne zoned in and struck him out looking to end the frame.

In the eighth with the score now 5-1, Byrne wiped away a leadoff single with a double play ground out followed by another groundout. In the final frame, it was now 6-1 Florida and Byrne remained out there to secure the super regional berth.

He induced two straight ground outs before allowing a 1-2 single. It would not matter though, as Byrne notched his second strikeout looking to end the game and win the regional. It would be save No. 16 for Byrne and give Austin Langworthy his first collegiate victory!

The Florida offense remained inept for five innings before dropping a three-spot in the sixth and scoring a run in the seventh through ninth innings. The Gators had their most hits all regional in this game as they banged out 10 base knocks.

Unlike most of the games in the regional, nearly all of Florida's offense was comprised of multi-hitters. In round two against BCU, four Gators had a multitude of hits.

In the leadoff spot, Jonathan India went 2-4 with two runs scored, a walk, and his 10th stolen base of the season. Right behind him, Dalton Guthrie went 2-5 with an RBI single in the seventh inning.

In the clean-up spot, Nelson Maldonaldo led all Gator hitters as he went 3-4 with a run scored and an RBI-single in the ninth inning. Rounding out the multi-hitters was Austin Langworthy. In addition to dominating on the mound, he was the one who kicked the offense into high gear.

In the sixth inning with runners on second and third with one out, Austin came to the plate. Working the count to 3-1, he belted a moonshot to right field to give Florida a 3-0 lead. It was his first home run since March 3rd against Columbia and just his third long ball all year.

Langworthy's blast could not have come at a better time. He finished the game 2-4 with the homer, a double, two runs scored, and three RBI's. The last Gator with a hit was Deacon Liput. He went 1-4 with his 12th stolen base of the season.

I will also mention Nick Horvath. Though he went hitless, the junior switch-hitter drew a walk and had a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning.

Miscues again struck Florida against the Wildcats. However, the Gators made just one error which would do no harm. It came in the sixth inning when Jonathan India pulled first baseman JJ Schwarz off the bag with his throw.

For BCU, errors sank them in this game. In the sixth inning with Nelly on first, fist baseman Danny Rodriguez dropped a fly ball in the infield off the bat of Mike Rivera. As if failing to make the catch was not bad enough, Rodriguez then soared the throw past second base.

These two critical errors allowed Nelly to reach third and Rivera to get to second with Langworthy up to bat. Five pitches later it was 3-0 Florida.

Final Takeaway
Like they have done all year, the Florida Gators proved the doubters wrong and won with their backs up against the wall. It is not preferential to play two games against Bethune-Cookman, but the mark of a great team is how they respond to adversity.

With a third trip to super regionals now in the books for Florida, here are my final tidbits on the win over BCU and regionals as a whole:

  • This is Florida's 12th regional championship.
  • Florida is now 75-43 all-time in regional play.
  • In just his second collegiate batting appearance, Michael Byrne laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt that moved Austin Langworthy over to third base in the eighth inning. It was his first career sac bunt and Langworthy would eventually score to make it 5-1 Florida.
  • This is India's 13th, Guthrie's 20th, Nelly's 16th, and Langworthy's eighth multi-hit game of the year.
  • Langworthy's double was his eighth of the year.
  • Though in the game for one inning, sophomore pinch hitter Blake Reese stole his fourth bag of the year after getting hit by a pitch to reach base.
  • Nick Horvath's sac fly was his first of the season.
  • BCU's top offensive performers were left fielder Adonis Lao (2-4) and sophomore center fielder Josten Heron (2-3 with an RBI single in the seventh inning).
  • Senior designated hitter Austin Garcia drew BCU's lone walk while right fielder Kyle Corbin scored their only run.
  • Florida ups their already impressive record against BCU to 32-1.
  • 2,166 fans showed out on a Monday afternoon to give Florida the home-field advantage they needed to advance to super regionals.

Looking Ahead
Hosting super regionals for the third straight season, the No. 3 Florida Gators (45-17) will host the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (42-18) this upcoming weekend. These two programs have played met just seven times, with Florida holding a 5-2 advantage.

The last time they played each other was in the 1998 Gainesville Regional. Florida won that game 12-9 and has not lost to Wake since the 1962 season. With the history lesson out of the way, let's now look at the present.

The Gators are looking for a third straight trip to Omaha at an ACC team's expense. Wake, meanwhile, has not made it to the College World Series since 1955. Granted, they did win it all that year.

It is great that Florida does not have to deal with Florida State for the third straight year in super regionals, but this may hurt them. Whenever FSU is in the other dugout, the Gators get up ready to go. One has to wonder if that same intensity will be there with Wake Forest across the diamond.

Many times this year we have seen what happens when Florida overlooks their opponents, and they cannot afford to do that with Wake. They bring in a good team anchored by Golden Spikes semifinalist Stuart Fairchild. Six of their batters are hitting over .300 with their starting rotation averaging a 4.10 ERA.

If the Gators can get to Wake's pitching staff and slow down their offensive attack, then they will be returning to the College World Series. If they play like they did in regionals... than they will have to swallow their pride as Wake celebrates their first College World Series apperance in 62 years with a dog-pile at the Mac.

I intend to be at every super regional game, and I am excited to see how it unfolds for both squads. The series starts Saturday and first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. It can be seen on ESPN and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network. Expect the Gators to throw Alex Faedo as they go for the early 1-0 lead in the series.



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