Gage Morey took off on contact nearly as soon as the ball left Jonathan India’s bat. The centerfielder picked a spot near the visitor’s bullpen in right center field, tucked his head down and just started running. Some 15-20 steps later Morey laid out and snagged Jonathan India’s potential game-tying hit.
The No. 2 Florida Gators (10-4) fell to No. 23 FGCU (12-2) 3-2 on Wednesday night, falling to 1-4 in midweek games and pushed them to and even .500 (4-4) against in-state opponents.
Kevin O’Sullivan trotted out his 14th different lineup in 14 games, shaking up the top of the order with Blake Reese leading off in place of Dalton Guthrie. It provided a spark in the first inning.
Blake Reese worked a walk to start the game. O’Sullivan, still trying to manufacture some hitting into what have been lifeless bats, put a hit-and-run on. Reese took off on first movement and Guthrie slapped a ball through the void created by the second baseman covering the bag for the steal. Reese rounded second and found third standing up. JJ Schwarz walked and ball four got away from starting pitcher Peyton Gray and catcher Spencer Levine, allowing Reese to score from third.
That, unfortunately for Florida, would be more than half of its offense the rest of the game.
“It is a bit surprising that 14 games in, we swung the bats well in the fall and preseason,” O’Sullivan said. “For whatever reason teams go through this, players go through difficult stretches and we just seem to be going through it to start the season.”
Austin Langworthy, making his first start of the season, worked a clean first inning but got himself into trouble in the second. Langworthy walked the first two batters he faced, drawing a meeting from Sully. A sacrifice bunt gave FGCU two runners in scoring position before Langworthy got a big strikeout to give Florida two outs. Walks will kill you and Elijah Eusebio made sure to remind the Gators of that with a two-out, two-RBI single into left field.
The Gators’ managed just one hit over the next seven innings and, with a generous strike zone from home plate umpire John Lavin, started to let their frustration show.
“It’s hard not to press when you’re not hitting very well and a lot of guys aren’t hitting very well,” Schwarz said. “You just gotta battle through it. It’s something we’re trying to work on.”
FGCU added a run in the fourth inning to push the score to 3-1. It proved to be the decisive run of the game.
Schwarz walked up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and lifted a ball to left-center field, a verifiable graveyard for baseballs, and over the fence for his first home run of the season.
“I was pretty surprised. I thought he was going to come back with another changeup,” Schwarz said of the pitch he hit. “I was just trying to shorten my swing. That’s how I caught up to it.”
Nick Horvath, who was inserted into the lineup after coming in to relieve Langworthy on the mound, struck out before Mark Kolozsvary’s pinch-hit single kept Florida alive. O’Sullivan inserted the speedy freshman Andrew Baker pinch run. Nelson Maldonado flew out before India was robbed of extra bases.
In two games against FGCU the Gators hit just .234 (15-64) and continue to struggle at the plate, hitting just .252 as a team this season. O’Sullivan noted after the game that there are veteran players that he’s sent a message to by taking them out of games and sitting them.
“You gotta make adjustments. You gotta come ready to play every day,” O’Sullivan said when asked about his recent playing time decisions. “They’re really good players. Sometimes guys need a break and to take a really deep breath and it might be nothing more than that. We have a few guys in the lineup that need to make adjustments. The body language hasn’t been real special.”
The Florida Gators will host Seton Hall this weekend at McKethan Stadium for a three game set starting Friday at 6:30 pm.