Dalton Guthrie hit a 1-1 fastball into right field with one out in the fifth inning to bring home Keenan Bell and give the Gators its first lead in a 2-1 win on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium.
Guthrie was 2-14 (.143) in the first three games last week before a 2-4, two home run game on Saturday and a 2-3 performance on Tuesday night. The junior middle infielder that has battled an elbow injury since before the season is enjoying the streak. “It’s a lot better, that’s for sure,” he said.
“It’s very easy to jump off a guy’s bandwagon when he’s struggling,” Kevin O’Sullivan said of Guthrie. “Dalton’s been struggling and all of a sudden the last two games he’s been on fire.”
The Owls (26-14) came into the game against the Gators (25-12) with 423 hits, seventh best in the nation. Freshman righty Nate Brown drew the start. Brown worked around two hits in the first inning, and stranded a runner on base in each of the first three frames he threw.
UNF led off the fourth inning with back-to-back hits, bringing Kevin O’Sullivan out of the dugout and to the mound. O’Sullivan made the decision to pull his freshman starter in favor of one of only two seniors on the team, Frank Rubio.
Rubio hadn’t recorded an out in his previous two outings (vs. LSU and FSU) and quickly gave up a single to Christian Diaz, giving UNF a 1-0 lead. After that Rubio settled down.
“Rubio was awesome,” O’Sullivan said of the senior reliever. “He’s probably the reason we won the game.”
Rubio threw a career-high four innings and tied a career high with three strikeouts. The senior was in line to be Florida’s closer when the season began but has gone through ups and downs as he tinkers with his mechanics and consistency.
“We’ve been struggling in midweek games with our freshmen going 5-6 innings. I just felt like, at that point, I wanted to lean on a senior,” said O’Sullivan. “I know Brad’s talked to him extensively, especially last week at Vanderbilt, about regrouping.”
Florida tied the game up in the fourth inning. Austin Langworthy led the inning off with a single. Ryan Larson flew out and Nelson Maldonado grounded out to second, but Langworthy was able to advance 90-feet on the later. That set the stage for JJ Schwarz, who was dropped down in the lineup last weekend. Schwarz lined a ball into right center, allowing Langworthy to score easily from second.
Guthrie was able to give the Gators the lead in the next frame while Rubio continued to throw zeros on the board. Rubio gave way to Garrett Milchin in the eight inning. The freshman retired the Owls in order before Michael Byrne entered the game in the ninth looking for his sixth save of the season. Byrne needed just eight pitches to work a perfect ninth inning, giving the Gators a big win over a good North Florida team.
“It was an important game for us if we want to creep back into one of those Super Regional hosts, this is one of those games we needed to win,” said O’Sullivan. “I told the guys that before the game. You can’t be looking ahead to South Carolina. We all know how important that series is.”
The Gators will host the South Carolina Gamecocks for a three-game series starting Thursday night in Gainesville. Florida and South Carolina are tied for second in the SEC East at 8-7, trailing Kentucky (10-5) by two games.