The No. 1 Florida Gators (41-8) overcame a sluggish start to finish off the USF Bulls, 11-4, and complete a 14-0 record in midweek games. The Gators 41st win of the season also tied a school record (last accomplished in 2011) as the most wins in regular season play.
“To be able to finish off the midweek games undefeated is a remarkable accomplishment for this team,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s not easy to do, number one because of the opponents we play and having the ability to bring your game to the park every day. It’s easy to have a let up when you have a really difficult conference schedule and maybe have a letdown on a Tuesday or Wednesday.”
First inning fireworks led to a 34-minute first frame, with each team dotting the scoreboard with a crooked number.
Scott Moss, making his fourth start of the season, struggled more than he had in any other outing. Moss gave up back-to-back infield singles on two bunts and a third straight hit to load the bases with no outs. It’s a situation that would normally bring Kevin O’Sullivan off of his normal spot on the top step of the third base dugout, but not on Tuesday.
A fielder’s choice with a close call at first roused O’Sullivan out of his spot to argue the call at first, but he left Moss alone. Moss gave up another run on a single to right field and a third run when Joe Genord singled with two outs. In total, Moss surrendered three runs on five hits, more runs and hits than he had given up in 13.1 innings prior to Tuesday.
“There were two balls that never left the infield and a ground ball in the three hole. I just thought it was one of those unfortunate things, I thought he was throwing the ball good,” O’Sullivan said of why he didn’t go out to talk to Moss. “That’s probably the best three innings he’s thrown all year, it’s a weird game. There’s really nothing I can tell him. Just keep doing what you’re doing and the game will come around.”
The Bulls may have punched first, but Florida came out swinging in the bottom half of the inning. Dalton Guthrie worked a walk and moved to third after Jonathan India singled up the middle. Guthrie scored with JJ Schwarz’s sacrifice fly to center field and a Pete Alonso double to left brought home India.
What seemed like it would be a good night for the bats was quickly forgotten. Moss settled down, allowing just one more hit, a triple in the second, over three innings of work. Meanwhile, USF starter Michael Clarkson rebounded from his initial inning to baffle the Florida bats. Mike Rivera led the second inning off with a single and Clarkson promptly sat down the next nine batters he faced, broken up only by a hit batter. Florida sent 21 batters to the plate without recording a hit, but managed to tie the game at four during a strange sixth.
Schwarz and Alonso drew a pair of one out, four-pitch walks. Buddy Reed softly lined a ball to right field but Luke Maglich misjudged the ball tailing towards the line off of the left-handed Reed swing. The ball fell under his glove, an error, plating Schwarz and moving Alonso to third. Alonso scored after Nelson Maldonado grounded out to second, the game now tied at four without Florida recording a single hit.
“Coming from behind, you’re going to take a run anyway you can get them,” Alonso, who went 3-4 with 3 RBI, said. “Especially tying it up there, that gave us a lot of momentum.”
The odd sixth inning propelled Florida into a mammoth seventh inning. The Gators scored two on no hits in the sixth, so it’s no surprise that five hits in the sixth were able to blow the game open with six runs. Florida sent six batters to the plate and extended its lead to 10-4.
That’s all the bullpen needed, as Dane Dunning, Kirby Snead and Shaun Anderson combined to four scoreless innings in relief to give Florida the win.
The Gators will host Vanderbilt this weekend for a very important SEC East matchup. The Gators currently stand atop the SEC East with South Carolina (both with a 16-7 conference record). The Commodores are 2.5 games back with a 14-10 SEC record.