Heading into the weekend, few expected the Florida baseball team to experience much success in its home series against Ole Miss.
The Gators entered the weekend riding another woeful losing streak, this time a three game skid, and were attempting to rebound against a Rebels squad ranked 11th in the country.
Despite losing the opener in extra innings by a score of 4-3, the Gators managed to bounce back on Saturday and Sunday, taking the final two games of the series with two shutout performances — 7-0 and 4-0, respectively.
The pair of wins gave Florida (13-16, 4-5 SEC), its first series victory in SEC play this season. The back-to-back shutouts marked the first time since 2010 that the Gators held an opponent scoreless in consecutive contests.
For a team that’s been running short on confidence (and lately, short on bodies), the pair of wins is an undeniable boost.
“I don’t remember the last time we had back-to-back shutouts, so it’s pretty remarkable,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after Sunday’s series-clinching victory.
After Friday night’s heartbreaker, the Gators received arguably their best pitching performance of the year from pre-season all-American Jonathon Crawford (1-4) on Saturday. Having yet to earn a win in 2013, Crawford tossed a complete game against the Rebels, giving up only two singles while simultaneously registering eight strikeouts.
It was the first time since Crawford’s no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman last season that he both went the distance and turned in a shutout. The shutout was also the first for Florida this season.
Florida’s bats came to life early on against Ole Miss on Saturday, as the Gators crossed home plate three times in the second inning alone. Sophomore Mike Fahrman notched the first hit of his Gators’ career during the inning, bringing in two runs with a screaming double to right.
Florida would wait until the sixth inning to build on its lead, as freshman Harrison Bader led things off with the first homerun of his career — a shot into the Rowdy Reptiles section in left field. Justin Shafer and Zack Powers would also add runs in the sixth, before a Taylor Gushue double in the seventh scored Casey Turgeon for the last run of the game.
While Florida showing any sign of offense was a pleasant sight for fans, it was Crawford’s performance that was the story of the day. Florida has been desperately seeking lengthier outings from its starting rotation and in turn, the Gators’ pitching staff was looking for more run support. Both got what they were looking for from the other during the weekend.
With high expectations surrounding him heading into the season, Crawford was cold to start the year — both literally and figuratively. Despite being located in an area known for its oft-times oppressive heat, the Gators had been the recipients of repeatedly chilly weather in the season’s early going.
Crawford (or any Gator for that matter) had yet to offer the weather as an excuse for his lackluster outings, but with ideal conditions in Gainesville during the weekend, the warm weather was quite welcomed by Florida.
“I felt really comfortable,” Crawford said. “I had my fastball and slider going for me. I have always liked pitching in the warm weather but I don’t think it has an effect on how well I pitch. The weeks in-between starts I just worked a lot to find my rhythm.”
After the win, O’Sullivan stated it was nice to give the bullpen a rest as Florida would probably need several hurlers to take the mound to close out the series.
However, O’Sullivan would be a little off in his prediction. The Gators would need only two pitchers to close out the deal on Sunday.
With a three-run third inning highlighted by Vickash Ramjit’s two-run blast, Florida would get 5 1/3 innings out of freshman southpaw Danny Young before sending out the “Wild Thing” — Johnny Magliozzi — to finish the remaining 3 2/3 innings for a 4-0 triumph.
After giving up only a pair of hits on Saturday, the Gators continued to show efficiency on the mound Sunday, giving up only two walks while allowing eight base runners.
Despite the youth of both Young and Magliozzi, the two pitchers were impressive against a veteran Ole Miss lineup.
“They’ve got older players in their lineup whom been around the league for two to four years,” O’Sullivan said of the Rebels.
Added Young: “I was able to make good pitches today, get groundouts and let my defense make plays. It’s huge having our offense able to put up runs and knowing as long as you put up zeros, we’re going to win the game.”
Florida has a chance to gain even more momentum this week, facing off against a UCF squad at home that they beat earlier in the season before traveling to Starkville, Miss. for a weekend series with a Mississippi State (23-8, 3-6) team that is 5-5 in its last 10 games.
Said O’Sullivan: “Overall, this is the kind of weekend we’ve been looking for and waiting for and I’m hoping this will be a nice jumpstart for us.”