The 20th-ranked Florida Gators (4-1) had a fight on their hands Wednesday night but a three-run eighth inning proved the difference as they downed the North Florida Ospreys (2-2), 8-7, at McKethan Stadium.
It was a night of comebacks in Gainesville as both the baseball team and Florida’s 2nd-ranked basketball team had to battle back to earn victories. In the shadow of the O’Connell Center, where the Gators battled back to beat Auburn, faint cheers turned into loud, audible roars. Next door at McKethan Stadium, the baseball team was doing some battling of its own.
Freshman right-handed pitcher Dane Dunning’s first start as a Gator didn’t go as planned and the Ospreys soared out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Dunning began the inning strong, retiring the first two batters he faced via strikeout and a line out to second. That’s when North Florida got a rally going, scoring four runs on three hits. Dunning didn’t survive the inning, giving way to Aaron Rhodes, who gave up no runs and three hits while striking out one in two innings.
Florida didn’t wait long to get back into the game, showing the kind of fight and resiliency that wasn’t seen for long stretches in the 2013 season.
“I think early in the season when you fall behind early like that — 4-0 — it shows the character in your team,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “They stayed with it and they battled and we scored four (runs) in the bottom of the third to tie it up. We hung with it.”
Florida’s four-run third got a jump start when freshman outfielder Buddy Reed drew a walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. Richie Martin wore a 2-2 fastball on the forearm to give the Gators runners on first and second with no outs. Casey Turgeon, who was 3-5 on the night, singled to right field, bringing Reed around from second. Reed is struggling at the plate to start his career but he’s an exciting player and the only player on the roster that could have rounded third and scored in that situation.
Taylor Gushue kept the inning going with a single to load the bases. Pete Alonso’s sac-fly brought in Martin, Turgeon scored on a wild pitch and Braden Mattson drove in Gushue with a single to cap off the scoring.
Florida tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh. Richie Martin doubled to left center, was moved over to third by Turgeon and plated on a Gushue sac-fly to center — small ball at its finest.
The Ospreys got to the Gators in the eighth, scoring three runs on three hits and an error. It appeared to be a knockout punch, but the Gators didn’t get down.
“There is a lot of positive energy,” sophomore right-handed pitcher Eric Hanhold said. “We just try to keep guys up and help win the game.”
That positive energy led to a three-run outburst started by a two-strike single from Mattson. John Sternagel pinch hit for A.J. Puk and worked a walk before Justin Shafer popped up to the pitcher. With two outs the Gators buckled down and went to work. Reed hit an infield single to load the bases and set the stage for Martin, who reached on a fielding error that plated two unearned runs. Turgeon singled to center, driving home the go-ahead and eventual game-winning runs.
Freshman Shaun Anderson — the eighth Gator pitcher on the night — took the mound in the top of the ninth, making his first appearance in a UF uniform. Anderson showed poise after giving up a pair of singles but he retired the side, leaving a runner stranded to earn the save.
“What can you say about Shaun Anderson? It was the first outing of his career; he attacked and showed some poise,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought he threw the ball really well. I know it’s just one inning, but to be able to come in for his first collegiate outing and show poise like that and make pitches, I thought it was really impressive.”
The young Gators have no time to celebrate as they travel to No. 17 Miami (2-2) — which fell to FAU 5-2 on Wednesday– Friday for a three-game set against the Hurricanes. Miami will throw lefty Chris Diaz on Friday night, the first time Florida will face a lefty starter this season.
O’Sullivan will stick with the same pitching rotation this weekend, trotting out left-hander Bobby Poyner on Friday, righty Brett Morales on Saturday and righty Karsten Whitson for the series finale on Sunday.
“It’s too early in the year to change,” O’Sullivan said of the weekend rotation. “I don’t want to have any knee-jerk reactions, I don’t want guys looking over their shoulder. There’s a reason why we set the rotation. Those guys had pitched well for a long period of time after the season started.”
Two games added to the TV schedule
CBS Sports Network has picked up two additional Gator games and will televise the Saturday, March 29, matchup against LSU at 1 p.m. as well as a matchup with West Division rival, Alabama on May 3, at 4 p.m.
The games are part of a seven game package that the network will broadcast.