Florida combined outstanding pitching from Stephen Locke and Josh Edmondson with stellar defense and another timely hit from catalyst Avery Barnes for a 2-1 victory over Florida Gulf Coast University Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium.
Just as he did in the nightcap against Brown University, Barnes came through with the clutch offensive punch for the Gators. This time he did so as the much needed base runner.
With the score tied 1-1 and one out in the bottom of the eighth, Barnes led off with a drive to the right field corner, speeding around the basepaths and winding up at third with a head first slide that beat the throw. Matt den Dekker walked to give the Gators runners on corners. Florida Gulf Coast University skipper Dave Tollett made the move for left hander Chris Sale. The Lakeland freshman ran a pitch inside to Cole Figueroa, who hit it into left field scoring Barnes for the go ahead run.
With a 2-1 lead, reliever Josh Edmondson stepped to the mound for his third and final inning. Mikel Alvarez hit a hard grounder to Brandon McArthur, who threw back to Edmondson covering first base for the first out. Just as he had all game, Figueroa turned in a defensive gem. He ran to the middle and took away a hit from Ozzie Borrell and fired to McArthur just in time for the second out. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan went to the mound to speak with Edmondson and catcher Teddy Foster before FGC’s top slugger, Jason Peacock, stepped up to the plate with two down. It didn’t matter. He hit a ball to Figueroa and the Florida shortstop scooped up the grounder and threw on to first for the final out of the game sealing the Gators victory.
This was a terrific baseball game. Both teams provided outstanding effort and hustle, which proved extremely effective. This is one that could have gone either way if not for some stellar defensive play by the Gators. The Eagles put several balls in the hole that were robbed by the Florida effort.
“We made some great defensive plays,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Jon Townsend made a heck of a play at third and Cole (Figueroa) made that really nice play in the ninth to keep people off base. I thought that we handled that three-one play really well with Brandon (McArthur) and the pitchers tonight. We’ve been working awfully hard on our defense and tonight it showed. They concentrated, they battled and we beat a really, really good team tonight.”
Florida southpaw Stephen Locke and Florida Gulf Coast right hander Pete Woodworth (2-1) did a tremendous job on the mound. Locke went six innings, allowing just four hits and one earned run. He walked none and struck out five Eagles batters along the way. The Gators also got a superb relief performance from Edmondson (2-0), who pitched three no hit, no run innings. He did not give up a base.
“I thought Stephen (Locke) threw the ball really, really well tonight,” O’Sullivan said. “I think that he threw seventy-one pitches and was around the strike zone and didn’t walk anybody. He had to match their pitcher (Woodworth) pitch for pitch. He threw really, really well. And then Josh (Edmondson) obviously got a big double play for us and stayed out of damage control.”
Woodworth allowed only five hits and two earned runs through seven innings. He fanned eight Florida batters.
“It takes one guy on the mound to be the equalizer,” O’Sullivan said. “I’ve got to tip my hat to him. He (Woodworth) kept us baffled all night. He threw the ball down in the zone and mixed his pitches extremely well.”
It appeared as though things might start early for Florida Gulf Coast (11-3). Peacock singled through the right side of the infield to lead off the top of the second inning. Third baseman Stephen Rassel followed with a single to center. But, Locke struck out designated hitter D. J. Bissell on a 2-2 pitch for the first out. Right fielder Vinnie Scarduzio then ripped a pitch down the line that first baseman Brandon McArthur dove, scooped up, and ran to the bag unassisted for a critical second out. Locke then blew a 3-2 pitch by catcher Paul Fibbe to end the threat.
In fact, Locke went on to retire 14 Eagles batters until a Brandon McArthur error in the top of the sixth.
“I had a feel for my change-up a little bit in the early innings,” start Stephen Locke said. “Teddy did a great job back there. I didn’t have to shake him off at all. And he did a good job managing the game. It was pretty easy.
“Anytime you have a bad outing like Saturday, it’s important to get back out there and have a good one and get that bad one out of your mind. We had help like JT (Townsend) diving and making that play, Brandon (McArthur) picking it. It’s pretty fun out there.”
Woodward jumped out to a 0-2 count on Figueroa, who promptly deposited his next offering over the left field fence.
“He was pitching good and he threw well to me during that first at bat,” Figueroa said, “He started me out looking. I wasn’t really looking fastball. I just went up there trying to guard the plate and luckily I got a good piece of it.”
In the top of the fifth, Bissell smashed a Locke fastball down the third base line. Townsend made a beautiful diving grab, quickly got to his feet, and fired the ball on line to McArthur, who scooped the ball out of the dirt for the first out of the inning.
Things got hauntingly familiar in the seventh. Just as they had in the second, Peacock singled, this time up the middle. Rassel followed with a ball to deep right-center moving Peacock to third. O’Sullivan made the call to the pen for Edmondson. He got Bissell to hit a ball to Figueroa at short, who threw it to second baseman Josh Adams, who stepped on the bag and fired for McArthur for the 6-4-3 double play. However, Peacock scored on the play to tie the game 1-1.
“I came out feeling really good today,” Figueroa said. “It was just a good game. You roll with the punches. We definitely have been working hard and I hope that it keeps going. Hopefully, we can keep doing what we’re doing right now.”
The Gators took care of business to close things out in the eighth.
“After the Brown series, you would never want to go through the series like that,” Figueroa said. “We kind of struggled a little bit. We just needed to pick ourselves up. We’re the University of Florida. I think that we need to have a little pride in that.”
Florida (11-3) will begin Southeastern Conference play against Auburn this weekend in Gainesville. The Gators will send Billy Bullock (1-2) to the hill on Friday night, Patrick Keating (1-0) on Saturday, and freshman sensation Tommy Toledo (2-0) on Sunday. The first pitch on Friday is set for 6:30 p.m.