In his first NCAA Tournament start, freshman right-hander Tommy Mace (4-0, 4.77 ERA) lasted only two innings. The Lions tagged him for three runs on six hits with Mace recording only one strikeout and issuing one walk.
After allowing a solo home run and back-to-back singles in the top of the third innings, Mace was pulled with no outs and Florida trailing 3-1. In relief came fellow freshman left-hander Jordan Butler, who recorded three straight fly ball outs to end the threat.
Butler would toss five clutch innings out of the pen and allow just one earned run on two hits. He struck out five Lions and walked just one. After 77 pitches, Butler was pulled with the Gators leading comfortably 10-4 in the eighth inning. In his place came sophomore right-hander Kirby McMullen, who proceeded to hit two consecutive batters before being yanked from the game.
Succeeding McMullen's brief appearance was freshman right-hander Jack Leftwich. The Lions would score one run off of him, but this came due to an error from junior shortstop Deacon Liput. The run would be charged to McMullen.
In the ninth, another McMullen would take the mound with Florida up 13-5. Freshman right-hander Hunter McMullen fared better than his older brother as he recorded the game's final three outs while allowing one hit and registering one punch out. The win would be awarded to Jordan Butler, his sixth of the season.
The Gator offense exploded for 13 hits and scored a run in both the first and third innings, six runs in the fourth inning, two in the seventh inning, and three more in the eighth inning.
Three Gators had multiple hits in the regional opener. In the three-hole, junior third baseman Jonathan India went 2-3 with a double, two runs scored, two RBI's, two walks, and a stolen base. His double gave Florida a 5-3 advantage in the fourth inning.
Behind India, sophomore right fielder Wil Dalton had himself a game out of the cleanup spot. Matching a career-high in both hits and RBI's, Dalton went 4-5 with two doubles, a two-run home run, six RBI's, and a run scored.
Rounding out the trio from two spots down in the six-hole, junior second baseman Blake Reese went 2-4 with two doubles, one run scored, an RBI, and two stolen bases.
The remaining Gators with hits were Deacon Liput (1-4 with a double, two runs scored, an RBI, and two walks), sophomore left fielder Austin Langworthy (1-4 with a triple, one run scored, and a walk), sophomore first baseman Keenan Bell (1-5 with a double and a run scored), senior center fielder Nick Horvath (1-4 with one run scored and an RBI), and junior catcher Jonah Girand (1-3 with a two-run home run, two runs scored, two RBI's, and a walk).
Deacon Liput made the lone error for Florida which would result in just one Columbia run in the eighth inning to trim the deficit to five.
The Lions made two errors in the contest. Senior catcher Lane Robinette threw the ball away when he tried to catch Blake Reese stealing second base in the bottom of the second inning, but this would not result in any Gator runs. In the bottom of the eighth inning, freshman third baseman Matt Cerfolio misplayed a ball to hit him and Florida would end up tacking on a run to go up 13-5.
After taking care of first round business as the No. 1 overall seed, the Florida Gators (43-17) will now face the Jacksonville Dolphins (40-19) in the regional semifinals. Before previewing this matchup, here are my final tidbits on the Gator victory today:
- Florida is now 13-5 all-time in regional openers.
- Florida has now won four consecutive regional openers.
- Florida is now 5-0 all-time against Columbia.
- This was Dalton's 15th, Reese's 15th, and India's 24th multi-hit games of the season.
- This was Bell's 10th, India's 12th, Liput's 13th, Reese's 15th, and Dalton's 17th doubles of the season.
- Austin Langworthy's triple was his second of the season.
- Jonah Girand's home run was the first of his Division I collegiate career! Meanwhile, Dalton's long ball tied India for the team lead with 17 on the season.
- Reese nabbed his eighth and ninth steals of the year while India swiped his 12th bag of the season.
- Junior designated hitter Nelson Maldonaldo was the only Gator who did not record a hit, but he did score two runs.
- Columbia's leading hitters were sophomore right fielder Liam McGill (3-5 with a double and an RBI) and junior first baseman Chandler Bengston (2-5 with a double and a run scored).
To look ahead we must briefly look behind as Florida and Jacksonville met twice during the regular season. In their March 21st meeting in Gainesville, the Gators convincingly won 10-3. In the April 17th rematch in Jacksonville, the Dolphins won 8-4.
Florida's junior ace right-hander Brady Singer (10-1, 2.25 ERA) will get the start against the Dolphins. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m. ET and the semifinal can be seen on ESPN3.
As for Columbia, they will face off against the FAU Owls (40-18) in an elimination game at 1 p.m. ET. This game can be seen on ESPN3 as well.
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