DELAND — As Coach Kevin O’ Sullivan put it after Tuesday night’s 5-2 win over Stetson, the Florida Gators needed to “put the weekend series behind us” after Miami walked away with a sweep. The best medicine for a painful lesson in college hardball was a short road trip to face the tough Hatters of the Atlantic Sun Conference and the doctor who wrote the prescription was Jeff Barfield, making the first start of his Gator career at Melching Field.
A junior college transfer who had appeared in three games as a reliever this season, Barfield went 6.2 strong innings and threw 100 pitches as the Gators improved to 6-2 on this cold night. He scattered five hits, struck out four and walked one while giving up just one unearned run to the 2-7 Hatters.
Barfield was pleased with his performance, particularly since it helped to put the Miami memories in the past.
“It felt good,” Barfield said. “We were looking forward to getting back out there. The Miami series left a bad taste in our mouth.”
Barfield got all the support he needed in the fourth inning when the Gators’ highly touted Florida freshman designated hitter Preston Tucker belted his first collegiate home run off Stetson starter Andy Mauldin (0-1). Tucker’s homer jump started a Florida offense that had been silent for three innings.
“I was just trying to start the inning, get a runner on base,” Tucker said. “At that point it was tied 0-0, so I was just trying to start something off.”
In the sixth, Tucker drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. He raised his batting average to .300. He’s starting to show why he was one of the most acclaimed recruits in O’Sullivan’s highly regarded 2008 recruiting class.
O’Sullivan entered the game concerned that they could bounce back from the Miami series, particularly that 16-2 hammering they took Sunday. Tuesday’s victory over Stetson showed some of the resolve he hoped to see from his ball club.
“No one played their best last weekend,” he said. “We’re disappointed, there’s no question … there’s no sugar coating it. The biggest challenge was coming back today. We needed to put the weekend behind us and get back on track. We did that. We have some things to work on, no question. We’re banged up a little bit. We’ll get through it. This was a tough one, and I’m glad we got it behind us.”
Getting a win on the road was important since the Gators were just 7-18 away from the friendly confines of McKethan Stadium last year. That’s an area that has to improve in 2009 so getting off to a good start away from home was a good thing.
“We’re trying to stay more focused, not just the weekend series at home,” Tucker said after the game.
It was a brutal evening on the field with temperatures in the low 40s. Bouncing back the way the Gators did in conditions like that was reason for O’Sullivan to smile.
“Going on the road for the first time … a little chilly … this game was a bear,” said O’Sullivan. “This one was not going to be easy.”
While nothing is set in stone, the win might have opened the door for Barfield to find see more opportunities to pitch rotation. Barfield’s strong performance gave proof that Coach O’Sullivan has to find a way to get the junior from Perry, Georgia more opportunities to pitch. There is a void on the staff because of the departures of Stephen Locke and Kyle Mullaney.
“When we lost two of our older pitchers it really threw things into a little bit of a tailspin,” O’Sullivan said. “We only used Barfield in one meaningful game (Louisville on Sunday). We’re not getting the most out of our better arms … that’s one of the reasons we started him. He might start some mid-week. He may close on the weekend for us, or set-up.”
Clearly, the biggest factor keeping Coach O’Sullivan from using Barfield in the rotation as a starter is the fact he provides a great option off the bench if his young pitching staff gets in trouble.
“We’re just so young on the mound, it makes things difficult,” O’Sullivan said. “You hate to go into any one game with all freshmen. You would like to have one older guy to stop the bleeding with if things don’t go the way you want out of the gate,” he said.
The Gators will now return home to face Florida Atlantic on Wednesday at McKethan Stadium at 6:30 PM to take on the Florida Atlantic Owls (7-1). Freshman righthander Anthony DeSciafini will start for the Gators.