Potential No. 1 overall draft pick Brady Singer (11-1, 2.27 ERA) was handed the ball and the junior right-hander did not disappoint. Tossing seven quality innings, Singer allowed just two earned runs on five hits while striking out six and walking only one. He did hit two batters, with one of them coming around to score Jacksonville's first run in the fifth inning.
At 99 pitches, Singer's night was over and he would have to watch the bullpen get the final six outs of the ballgame. With the Gators up 3-2, lockdown closer Michael Byrne entered in the eighth inning. The junior right-hander was greeted with a bang as Jacksonville's Ruben Someillan led off the inning with a triple.
With no outs and the tying run 90 feet away, Byrne would need to work some magic. The next batter for Jacksonville was two-hole Chris Lehane. He hit a fly ball out to Wil Dalton in right field, but it was not deep enough to score Someillan as Dalton threw a strike to the plate. One down, two to go.
Jacksonville's three-hole hitter, Scott Dubrule, hit a foul ball that was playable down the left field line. As junior third baseman Jonathan India, junior shortstop Deacon Liput, and sophomore Austin Langworthy converged on the ball, Liput dove in an attempt to make the catch.
Liput did indeed snag the ball before it hit the ground, but his (or maybe Jonathan India's) baseball IQ kicked in as he quickly dropped the ball right out of his glove. This prevented Someillan from tagging up to the tie the game as Liput was in no position whatsoever to throw him out after diving for the ball.
So with a second chance at life, Dubrule grounded out to sophomore first baseman Keenan Bell. He checked Someillan briefly at third base before flipping the ball to Blake Reese at first base for the second out. Two down one to go.
Byrne's final test of the inning would be Dolphin cleanup man Angel Camacho. Despite falling behind 2-0 in the count, Byrne induced a foul out to junior catcher Jonah Girand to end the inning and somehow preserve a one-run lead.
After escaping a chaotic eighth, Byrne settled down for the bottom of the ninth inning. He struck out five-hole Sam Armstrong on a 3-2 count and induced a fly out out to center field off the bat of designated hitter Chris Gau.
Now standing in the way of Florida and the 'W' was right fielder Cory Garraastazu, who had homered off of Brady Singer in the seventh inning to cut the deficit to 3-2. There would be no repeat fireworks this time around, as Byrne got Garraastazu to foul out to Keenan Bell to end the game and notch his 14th save of the season. In the process, Brady Singer would earn his 11th victory of the year.
The Gator offense relied solely on the long ball as they put up two runs in the fourth and tacked on one more in the seventh inning. Florida had only five hits, and more than half of them were dingers.
Leading off the fourth inning, Jonathan India and Wil Dalton hit back-to-back solo shots out to left field and left center field to give the Gators an early 2-0 advantage. With two outs in the seventh, Jonah Girand continued to stay hot as he hit the first pitch he saw over the left field fence to push the Florida lead to 3-1.
The remaining two Gators with hits were Austin Langworthy (1-3 with a walk) and senior center fielder Nick Horvath (1-3).
For the fourth consecutive season, the No. 1 Florida Gators (44-17) will enter the regional final with a 2-0 mark. Before previewing the final, here are my final tidbits on the close victory over Jacksonville:
- Jonathan India and Wil Dalton remain tied for the team-lead in long balls as they both now have 18 home runs on the season. For Jonah Girand, it was his second career home run in as many games at the Division 1 level.
- The Gators are now 56-32 all-time against Jacksonville.
- The Gators are now 23-5 in regional semifinals.
- Michael Byrne is the first-ever Gator pitcher to record at least 14 saves twice in his career!
Florida now awaits as they play the winner of the Jacksonville/FAU elimination game on Sunday. This game is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET and the winner will then have to turn around and play Florida at 6 p.m. ET later that night. Both games can be seen on ESPN3. The probable pitcher for the Gators has yet to be announced at this time.
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